With country music legend Garth Brooks as its most notable ambassador, Stillwater’s legendary Red Dirt genre of music continues to influence performers around the world. But there’s a lot more than music to Stillwater, which boasts a thriving arts community complete with theater, museums and more.
Red Dirt, loosely defined by a new generation of outlaw country music with a focus on songwriting, traces its roots throughout a long musical heritage of Stillwater. Brooks came by it honestly, working as a bouncer at the Tumbleweed Dance Hall and Concert Arena and singing at Willie’s Saloon during his student days at Oklahoma State University.
Although Brooks moved on, the Tumbleweed and Willie’s continue to be the places to go for live music in town, along with the Crosseyed Cricket Saloon and Eskimo Joe’s. Larger-scale shows come through here as well, including OSU’s annual Orange Peel, which brings nationally known comedians and musicians every fall; the Stillwater Arts and Heritage Festival, an April event that’s combination art show and local history lesson; the Stillwater Blues Festival, a four-day blues, jazz and gospel event in September; and the Oklahoma Celtic Music and Heritage Festival every June.
Those who like entertainment of the spoken variety can find plenty to applaud at the venerable Town and Gown Theatre. The all-volunteer troupe puts on four plays and a musical annually, and their building features the Wagner Art Gallery, showcasing local and regional artists.
"A more hands-on approach is on tap at the Multi Arts Center, which began life in an old barn in the 1970s and now fills a 15,000-square-foot facility with ceramics, pottery and glassblowing studios as well as a year-round art gallery featuring Oklahoma artists. The center’s noise level ramps up during the week, when local schoolchildren descend to learn about everything from watercolors to sculpture. Adult and family lessons are available, and a summer art camp is offered as well.
The visual arts get a boost from the Gardiner Art Gallery, an OSU mainstay since opening in 1965, and more recent entries such as Flourishes offer local artists an additional location to display and sell their art work.
Stillwater’s vibrant present owes much to its past, and several museums pay homage to that history. The Sheerar Museum is all about Payne County and also houses a collection of 3,450 buttons, while the Washington Irving Trail Museum uses artifacts and interactive exhibits to tell its story of the American West. And don’t forget the Pfeiffer Farm Collection, antique farm equipment and machinery located at the Payne County Expo Center, and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum, which covers the history of the world’s oldest sport.
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