Stillwater, OK Music Scene Has Red Dirt Roots
Memphis has the blues and Detroit has Motown, but Stillwater is known as the home of Red Dirt music, a genre as varied as the people who try to define it.
“Red Dirt music has more of a focus on songwriting with an outlaw-country sound behind it,” says Jared Cranke, publisher of the monthly Stillwater Scene magazine.
“The sound has dominated the music scene in Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma for years, especially as local bands including Cross Canadian Ragweed and Jason Boland & The Stragglers have become national acts.”
The bands that have sprung from Stillwater’s music scene over the years start with the pioneers – Bob Childers, Red Dirt Rangers, Medicine Show – and include recent chart-toppers like the All-American Rejects. But if there’s one musician Stillwater can truly hang its hat on, it’s Garth Brooks.
“Willie’s Saloon on the strip is the home of the first public performance of Garth Brooks, and we all know what happened to him after he left here,” Cranke says.
Born in Tulsa and raised in Yukon, Brooks attended Oklahoma State University and worked as a bouncer at the Tumbleweed Dance Hall and Concert Arena, where he met his first wife, Sandy.
“There’s even a house in town with a sign that says, ‘Garth and Sandy Brooks lived here,’ with the dates they rented it,” Cranke says.
The Tumbleweed and Willie’s Saloon are iconic anchors to Stillwater’s string of clubs where music keeps the area hopping every night of the week.
“Tumbleweed is a great place to go for music,” Cranke says. “They have live acts a couple times a month. The strip is more of the live music place to go with Willie’s Saloon, Dirty’s Tavern. Eskimo Joe’s is the place to go if you want to see the pop or rock ‘n’ roll acts. The music scene is growing again, and there are a couple of bands that are really getting their legs under them and starting to make some noise.”
And that noise can be heard all over town, especially at Eskimo Joe’s, which has Red Dirt roots that have grown in many different directions.
“Cody Canada of Cross Canadian Ragweed and Jason Boland played here every Wednesday night for a couple of years,” says Tim Holland, general manager at Eskimo Joe’s.
“Then Cody went national and Stoney LaRue took his place. Then Jason’s band took off and Stoney played with Steve Rice, who is the lead singer of country rockers No Justice. We eventually stopped doing it, but it was cool to see how everyone grew and evolved from here.”
First and foremost, Eskimo Joe’s considers itself a casual family restaurant with a vibrant bar scene that does live music two nights a week.
“It’s a very eclectic, fun and unique atmosphere,” Holland says, “I call it the most intimate live music venue in Stillwater.”
Of course, the clubs aren’t the only place to see live music in Stillwater. OSU’s Orange Peel, a combination pep rally and entertainment extravaganza, hosts comedians and national music acts for this annual event each fall; the Stillwater Blues Festival in mid-September draws the best acts from around the country for four days of blues, jazz and gospel; and the Oklahoma Celtic Music and Heritage Festival in June honors a completely different side of Oklahoma’s culture, with ceremonial music, activities and workshops.
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