Preserve & Restore Gram Parsons' First Performance Venue: The Derry Down, Winter Haven, FL

The biggest thing in Winter Haven, Florida, used to be Cypress Gardens, the result of an ambitious dream of one Dick Pope with backing from John Snively, Gram Parsons' grandfather and Florida citrus king. Long neglected, the amusement park and gardens are now run by Legoland, which has preserved some of the original Cypress Gardens and provided Winter Haven a chance to rebound. Legoland now also owns Gram's grandparents' home and uses it for special functions (photo by Bob Kealing at left). The gorgeous restoration of the Ritz Theatre is another example of Winter Haven's re-birth, a wonderful example of what communities can do working together and following Main Street's four-point approach to revitalization. The downtown streetscape of Winter Haven has undergone a remarkable facelift, also a result of such community cooperation led by Winter Haven Main Street.

The town now has a new project in the works: preserving and restoring the building that Gram's stepdad, Bob Parsons, bought for his son to play and hone his skills as a performer. The Derry Down Project seeks to restore the venue where a young Gram Parsons and his band, the folk-oriented Shilohs, were regulars, but also where others played from the historically rich well of the Florida Youth Center Circuit (term coined by Bob Kealing, author of Calling Me Home: Gram Parsons & the Roots of Country Rock), from which Tom Petty and others emerged.

With so much going on regarding the preservation/revitalization front in Winter Haven, it is important for all fans of Gram Parsons and his legacy to support this local effort. One easy way is simply to "Like" the Derry Down Project Facebook page, to give the local community a better idea what a successfully restored Derry Down would mean to Winter Haven as a destination location.

Won't you please take a moment and support this effort by simply clicking Like on this page? There will soon be a more formalized procedure for supporting the effort financially, but for now, your Like would mean a lot to this budding project, so important to the history of American music.

Thank you, Will James.


Jim Carlton (left), Gram Parsons' Winter Haven friend and band mate and an early contributor to the project.

Actual recording of Gram Parsons & the Shilohs from the Derry Down (early 60s) played at recent Derry Down Project kickoff event.

Views: 1184

Tags: Cypress Gardens, Florida, Gram Parsons, Jim Carlton, Shilohs, The Derry Down, Winter Haven, folk music, historic preservation

Comment by Easy Ed on January 3, 2014 at 12:01pm

As someone from the North who visited Cypress Gardens at least a dozen times in my childhood, this was a fascinating connection point to discover. I've liked the FB page, don't have any money to offer but support the project. A great share Will. Thanks.

Comment by Will James on January 5, 2014 at 8:51am

This blog was first posted in the Gram Parsons International group here on ND ( It has 280 views there as opposed to 70 for this blog page since it's been on the front page. Interesting. It appears that, because you can hit continue on the front page (a nice feature) and read all of it, the community blog page gets fewer page views even though on the "cover."

Also copy and pasting Bob Kealing's response here from the other page:

"This is such an important project because it is a celebration of Gram Parsons' pioneering vision and musical legacy in the Florida town and county where he was born and made his earliest recordings.

It's another important departure from the Californification of his story and the old news telling and retelling of his death and pointless mythologizing of the events in Joshua Tree California.

Perhaps Emmylou Harris's induction in to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009 is the line in the sand her musical mentor needed for mainstream legitimacy and to escape that half-burned coffin in the desert. We can only hope.

Along with remembering Gram as a young musician, the Derry Down's renovation is also a celebration of many important artists who grew up in that uncommonly musical corridor of central Florida. There is a nascent effort to celebrate the myriad of musicians I called, "The Youth Center Circuit" in my book, Calling Me Home, Gram Parsons and the Roots of Country Rock.

Will James' online petition effort to induct Gram in to the Country Music Hall of Fame (now 13,000 plus strong) is another clear indication of the worldwide embrace of Parsons pivotal role in the creation of what we now know today as Americana, Alt Country, Country Rock, whatever you want to call it.  Others like Gene Clark were also important genre bending and blending artists.

Central Florida musician, writer, comedian, record producer Jim Carlton, also played a pivotal role in being a gatekeeper for his friend Parsons' musical legacy in the South. His one-of-a-kind recording of Gram and his folk group the Shilos the night of this club's opening, December 20, 1964 provides an important provenance.

Having met with the group spearheading the Derry Down Project, it's clear they hope to return Parsons' former teen club to a live music venue and generator of cultural tourism in downtown Winter Haven. For too long, this area's legacy has been overwhelmed by the theme parks. There is a real central Florida that lies within places like the Derry Down, so too does the true legacy of a young folkie named Gram Parsons." -- Bob Kealing author of Gram Parsons and the Roots of Country Rock




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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.