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Restoring Derry Down - a Tribute to Gram Parsons

Updated on June 29, 2014
Derry Down in Winter Haven, Florida
Derry Down in Winter Haven, Florida | Source

Renewed Interest and Vision for Derry Down

Bob Kealing's book, Calling Me Home, Gram Parsons and the Roots of Country Rock was published in 2012 and brought a renewed interest in Derry Down. Main Street Winter Haven took the lead and through negotiation with the former owners, acquired the property through donation. Their goal is to restore and expand Derry Down within its historical context in coordination with the Florida Department of State Division of Historical Resources. Not only will the historical attributes of Derry Down be preserved, but the building will function as it did in the 1960s. Once again it will serve local bands as a performance venue. It will also enter the 21st century with live video streaming during the performances. The building, being just north of downtown Winter Haven and the Central Park, will add to the culture of downtown. Cumulatively, downtown Winter Haven as gone through much renovation over the last ten years guided with a vision of promoting the community and pedestrian traffic. Derry Down is not only historic, but meets the future vision.

Sign outside Derry Down during the Cosmic Revival.
Sign outside Derry Down during the Cosmic Revival.

Derry Down

If you did not know its history, Derry Down looks like a vacant building in downtown Winter Haven, Florida. However, in the 1960s it was purchased and used as a teen center for performances by up-and-coming youth garage bands. While this makes the building unique amongst vacant buildings, Main Street Winter Haven, Inc (a not-for-profit 501c(3)) sees its historical significance and has a vision for it. What is the history and what is the vision? They both revolve around singer and song writer Gram Parsons.

Gram Parsons is credited as a major influence of combining rock and country music together resulting in what he termed Cosmic American Music. He was a band member of the Submarine Band, The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and later produced two solo albums titled Gram Parsons and Grievous Angel. Unfortunately he died young at the age of 26 of a drug overdose.

In his formative years, Gram played at Derry Down. It was an easy choice - his stepfather purchased the building in December 1964 for him to perform in as well as for other local teenage garage bands. While not overly large, it accommodated the local teenage audience. Winter Haven can claim Gram Parsons as its native son as he was born here, albeit he spent more of his youth in Waycross, Georgia. Gram's mother and biological father grew citrus in the Winter Haven area and farmed in Waycross. While Waycross was their primary residence, Winter Haven was a home away from home.


Inside Derry Down
Inside Derry Down

Gram Parsons' Cosmic Revival at Derry Down

Main Street Winter Haven, Inc kicked off the restoration effort with a free concert. The event was billed as Gram Parsons Cosmic Revival at Derry Down. This was a fitting name as Gram Parsons referred to his music as Cosmic American Music. The Cosmic Revival was held on 28 June 2014 and featured local musicians playing in fifteen minute blocks. Some band members had played with Gram in person and were around when Derry Down was operating. Turnout was estimated at 300 people, despite a brief summer rain. Inside Derry Down itself was an information booth on how to support the restoration effort as well as floor plans for the future establishment. Clearly, it is an ambitious effort with an estimated cost of $300,000. The buildings needs much work inside and out as well as the expansion.

Cosmic Revival on 28 June 2014 in Winter Haven, Florida.  Derry down building at right.
Cosmic Revival on 28 June 2014 in Winter Haven, Florida. Derry down building at right.
Performer at the Cosmic Revival, Derry Down in the background.
Performer at the Cosmic Revival, Derry Down in the background.
Performer at Cosmic Revival.
Performer at Cosmic Revival.
Performer at Cosmic Revival.
Performer at Cosmic Revival.

Live Performance at Gram Parsons' Cosmic Revival

Following and Supporting Derry Down

Derry Down has its own Facebook Page at: https://www.facebook.com/thederrydownproject. Here you can check on the progress of Derry Down and dialogue with others.

Efforts by Main Street Winter Haven for the restoration of downtown Winter Haven to include Derry Down is found at: http://mainstreetwh.com/



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