WEST GREENWICH – Going back to the 1970s, Stepping Stone Ranch has enjoyed a long, storied history of hosting various musicians and bands. And now, after nearly ten years, the owners of the ranch are bringing back the music, with two large-scale, ambitious festivals lined up for this summer.
Sitting inside the reception hall on Saturday, Heidi and Darrell Waldron, who bought the horse ranch in 1996, explained why they decided begin hosting festivals on the property once again, which both said was, in part, for very personal reasons.
“The ranch was known for music. People got married here, they fell in love here. There’s fond memories,” Darrell said, looking out onto the idyllic, several-acre-large ranch.
Over the years, several huge-named bands played at the ranch during festivals, including Aerosmith, Sha Na Na, Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn, among many, many others.
In fact, Heidi and Darrell met each other at a festival when they were both 13.
Darrell, who worked and lived on the ranch as a stable hand when he was a child, was setting up around 8,000 chairs for a particularly large festival, when Heidi, who had boarded a horse on the ranch, decided to lend him a hand. The two have been together ever since, and, later, went so far as to buy the property where they first met.
“It’s all meant to be,” Heidi said.
And though the Waldrons have put on smaller musical shows for their annual Cowboy Rendezvous every Columbus Day weekend, in recent years, the two have been focused primarily on boarding several horses, summer camps, teaching riding lessons and hosting weddings on the property.
Now, they both said, it was time to return to the ranch’s festival roots.
“This is designed for music,” Darrell said, pointing to the stage where the bands have historically played. “The amphitheater stage projects the sound forward. The ranch is happy when there’s music.”
In July, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock, the Waldrons will be putting on the Steppingstock Festival, which will see various tribute bands taking the stage, such as Trinity, who will play the music of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Blue Wild Gypsy, covering the music of Jimi Hendrix; and Who Are You, a Who oriented tribute band.
“We figured we would start with this and see how it goes. If the show goes well, we’ll keep doing them, we’ll do some more,” Darrell said. “We’ve been getting a lot of calls on it. These bands are great, the sound’s going to be awesome.”
And in August, the second festival, Rock the Ranch, will feature Barefoot Rebel, a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band; The Brother All Band, who will play the music of the Allman Brothers; and, finally, Scott Fowler & Southbound, a country and southern rock band.
Heidi said that the festivals will be a reminder to Rhode Islanders and everyone else of what the ranch was, is, and what it could be in the future.
“People forget that there’s a place like this in Rhode Island,” she said. “The ranch has been forgotten and there’s a whole generation that doesn’t know about it. It’s been here and it’s time to share it and bring it back.”
“It’s gonna be great,” she added. “All that music, it’s going to be beautiful.”
Since purchasing the ranch more than 20 years ago, the Waldrons have hosted several reggae, blue grass, gospel and Cajun-Zydeco shows, among others.
But after an eight-year hiatus, the couple is back at it, providing two hours-long festivals for a fair price, costing only $20 per ticket for each event.
“Festivals and music shows have gotten way up into $100 to $200 a ticket. So we had family shows here that were very affordable,” Darrell said. “You can still do it for a fairly good price.”
“We figure we can do the shows, do them for twenty-bucks. People can come and do that, they don’t have to spend $150,” he continued. “The place was famous for its music, it really was. This was the only place you could do a festival in the early days.”
Food and drinks, including beer, wine and cocktails, will also be served at the festivals, though no outside coolers or alcohol will be allowed.
All profits, Heidi said, will be put right back into the ranch for various improvements, such as a new roof for the reception hall.
“If we can make it happen, it’ll be awesome, because the funds will go right back into the farm,” she said.
“The main point here,” Darrell added, “is to see if it can happen again, for an affordable price.”
The Steppingstock festival will be held on Saturday, July 20 from 1 to 6 p.m., while Rock the Ranch will be held on Sunday, August 11, from 1 to 6 p.m., with the gates opening at noon for both events. Tickets for both festivals can be purchased either at Stepping Stone’s website, www.steppingstoneranch.com, or day of at the ranch, for $20 a piece, and free admission for children under 10. Tickets can also be purchased by mail in the form of a self-addressed envelope or at the ranch in advance.
Stepping Stone Ranch is located at 201 Escoheag Hill Road, West Greenwich.