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.