TISHOMINGO — A 700-mile chasm separates Nashville from Tishomingo, a small town known for its collection of tourist attractions and Miranda Lambert-owned businesses.
Tish’ is a long way from Music City, but famed songwriter Roger Springer hopes to bridge the divide.
During his career, his country songs have been recorded by artists such as George Strait, Tim McGraw, Johnny Cash and Mark Chesnutt. Springer’s songs, recorded by various artists, have sold 20 million albums, so his name holds clout in Nashville and can open doors that would be otherwise closed for fledgling songwriters.
With this in mind, Springer and business partner Allen Stonecipher opened The Pickin’ Parlor, a music venue that showcases established acts while also providing a gateway for local songwriters to present their work straight to Nashville.
“We’re here to give local songwriters a chance to do what is nearly impossible: break into the big machine,” Springer said. “If we hear something that we love or want to work with, we can take it from here directly to our people in Nashville. I wouldn’t want them to give up their wives and children to chase a dream. I’ve paid that price, and I don’t want them to. This way, they can bypass all the misery that comes along with trying to build a career.”
Songs picked up at The Pickin’ Parlor’s weekly local songwriters’ night are signed onto Springer and Stonecipher’s Nashville publishing company, Blue Springs Music. So far, the company has added three songs by local artists to its catalog.
‘Spinning your wheels’
Local songwriter Jeremy Studdard, 33, is among those artists.
Studdard said he knows all too well how hard it is to make it in Nashville. A songwriter since he was 11 years old, Studdard moved to the Music City at 18 but was forced to return home at 21.
“If you don’t know the right person, you are just spinning your wheels,” Studdard said. “Roger and Allen really have helped all the people like me that just can’t live there.”
A decade later, Studdard performed for Springer and Stonecipher at The Pickin’ Parlor and, in a single month, Studdard has collaborated with Springer on two songs.
For local songwriters, catching Springer’s ear is akin to winning the lottery. If the stars align, songs recorded by top artists could eventually fetch the writer from $300,000 to $400,000, Springer said.
Local boys make good
Locating in Tishomingo was a mutual decision for Stonecipher and Springer, both of whom grew up around the Johnston County area.
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Stonecipher, the owner of The Pickin’ Parlor, has entrepreneurship embedded in his DNA. His father was Harland Stonecipher, the founder of Pre-Paid Legal Services (now LegalShield), a national legal-services firm based in Ada, Okla. From an entrepreneur’s perspective, he said opening The Pickin’ Parlor in Tishomingo made logistic sense because the town is located centrally between larger communities like Ada, Ardmore and Durant.
For Springer, locating in Tishomingo was his chance to return to his roots.
“I lived in Caddo and went to school at Milburn, but most of my memories were spent right here in Tishomingo because this is where I fished and hunted and spent most of my time,” Springer said.
Springer said even the publishing company’s name, Blue Springs Music, is a nod to the area, named after the spring that feeds Tishomingo’s Blue River.
“In all of my travels, I have never felt more of a community as when I grew up in Johnston County,” Springer said. “These are the most wonderful, encouraging, supportive, best-all-around people I’ve know in my whole life. I’m just thrilled to be back home.”
Mayor: ‘If you build it, they will come’
The Pickin’ Parlor is in good company. For a town of only 3,000 residents, Tishomingo offers four music venues on Main Street alone that showcase live music on the weekends: The Pickin’ Parlor, The Indie Cinema, The Pink Pistol Ponderosa, and The Ladysmith’s Platinum Ballroom.
“The talent has always been in this area,” said Jeff Caskey, who co-owns The Indie Cinema with his wife, Amy. In addition to serving as the town movie theater, The Indie Cinema hosts concerts for local acts.
“Before, there wasn’t really a place where artists could play, especially more than one place,” Caskey said. “Now, we have The Pickin’ Parlor and the Ponderosa bringing in new acts every weekend. It’s neat to see what’s coming through here.”
It was only two years ago that Main Street would become a virtual ghost town after 6 p.m. on Friday evenings. Like clockwork, the streets would be barren except for the occasional car at a stoplight.
Even as Tishomingo emerged as a tourist mecca for Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert fans, evening entertainment was not a draw until Lambert built the Ponderosa and the Platinum Ballroom, which host live music on Fridays.
“‘If you build it, they will come’ is the attitude I think our music venues have adopted, and so far, it is all holding to be true,” Tishomingo Mayor Tom Lokey said.
Local restaurant owners say that music is drawing visitors to surrounding businesses as well.
“We’re seeing influxes of people before and after shows,” Sam Ritchie, who co-owns Boomarang with his wife, Debbie. Boomarang is a popular diner in Tishomingo that serves American food and breakfast. “We’re definitely seeing an impact.”
In keeping with its country-music mythos, Tishomingo is attracting music enthusiasts with live shows that draw from a melting pot of local talent and established acts. The musical styles run the gamut of the country genre, ranging from Western swing to Southern rock. Word of Tishomingo as a music destination is gaining traction, even among big-name artists.
Platinum-selling country artist Bryan White said he heard about Tishomingo’s music scene through fellow country artist and friend Wade Hayes, who performed at The Pickin’ Parlor in February. Curious, White had his agent contact Springer to set up an acoustic set. A month later, White performed at The Pickin’ Parlor to a packed audience.
“I’ve only been here a very short time,” White said after the concert, “but my impression is [Tishomingo] is a town on the rise. I loved driving through and walking down the streets and visiting the shops. And, obviously, it’s a town inspired by music.”
(Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Allen Stonecipher’s first name. This oversight has since been corrected, and NonDoc regrets the error.)