Stillwater News Press

April 13, 2012

The Farm at Stillwater brings back memories for Red Dirt musicians

By Chase Rheam

STILLWATER, Okla. — Sometimes the right setting can evoke memories. Such was the case for musicians who visited The Farm west of Stillwater Thursday evening.

John Cooper of The Red Dirt Rangers recalled first moving out to the property in 1979 with friend Danny Pierce.

"For two college kids to rent a five-bedroom farmhouse with 149 acres and outbuildings was kind of a dream come true," Cooper said.

Over the next 20 years, The Farm became a gathering spot for Red Dirt musicians. Musicians would visit and sometimes pay rent to stay in the home. Among those musicians was legendary songwriter Bob Childers.

"Memories of Bob just overwhelm this place," said artist Chuck Dunlap.

The 58-year-old Dunlap said he was introduced to The Farm before he left Oklahoma in 1979. He said all the pickers went there. Dunlap recalled memories of songs played beside a fire at three in the morning by people whose talents were unknown at the time. Many songs were constructed on this site, he said.

While the farmhouse burned in 2003, a vital part of the property still remains - the Gypsy Cafe. Childers was responsible for remodeling the garage and rebranding it.

"I'm glad something survived and if anything was going to survive I'd probably rather it be the cafe than the house because that's where everybody gathered," said Dunlap.

Artist Mike McClure remembered how he became acquainted with The Farm. McClure had become a member of The Great Divide when he moved to Stillwater. One day, he came home to discover Childers on his front porch. The two struck up a conversation and Childers invited him to The Farm. One of McClure's memories of the historic site was arriving on the property after seeing smoke. He saw Childers going through what was left of his belongings. The trailer he lived in had caught fire, destroying everything. McClure asked him what had happened.

"And he said, 'Oh, God said it's time to move,'" McClure recalled. "Just his attitude about life was really cool for a younger person."

Brandon Jenkins said he didn't play much the first few times he visited The Farm. Instead, he would watch Childers and another artist, Jimmy LaFave, pass around the guitar. He said he was happy to revisit the site.

"It's good to reconnect with my Okie brethren and be on a familiar piece of land and I'm just happy to be here," said Jenkins at Thursday's gathering. "It's awesome."

Even newer artists who weren't part of the dynamic are still eager to learn about The Farm.

"It's kind of like Woodstock," said Dunlap. "They say there was only 400,000 people there, but there have been about 10 million claim they were. It's kind of developed its own urban legend that even if they weren't, they felt like they were connected to it because they were part of the aftermath of The Farm."

The musicians will perform as part of the second annual Red Bull Gypsy Cafe event Friday night. The concert is held at four venues - Eskimo Joe's, Stonewall Tavern, The College Bar and Willie's Saloon - with pairs of artists performing together every hour at every venue from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. A finale will be held at midnight at Eskimo Joe's.

Dunlap said the event validates every one of the musicians.

"It really validates what we've done all these years, which is sticking with the music because we knew it was good and we knew we liked it and the people we played it for liked it," said Dunlap.

Jenkins said he spreads the message of where Red Dirt began everywhere he goes.

"I live in Texas now and I travel across the world and I preach Stillwater," said Jenkins. "I think Stillwater is obviously the mecca of Red Dirt music. There's something special about this place. Something intangible that you can't explain until you come here."

For McClure, it's the continuation of a good thing.

"I'm just glad to see that everything just keeps perpetuating," said McClure. "It's cool for me to be a part of that. Coming out here in my early 20s and now I'm in my 40s and just seeing a Stillwater tradition continue."

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