WEBSTER – Beyond the shores of Webster Lake, the 25-acre beachfront venue known as Indian Ranch is best known for its 68-year tradition of outdoor country music concerts, one that continues to bring performers and music fans together every summer.
But Indian Ranch is more than the concerts – it’s also a popular campground and an event facility for social functions such as weddings, corporate outings, and holiday parties.
“We're three very different areas of business all under one roof,” says Suzette Raun, now in her eighth year as President of Indian Ranch. Before managing the family-owned Ranch, Suzette worked as a graphic designer and program manager. Asked if she had to learn about country music she admits, “Yes, I did. I didn't know anything about country music. “ She learned by listening to staff members who were long-time country music fanatics and by reading and researching. Now, she says “I like it.”
Suzette's staff members who oversee all aspects of the operation include Dick Parent, who manages the campground; John O'Loughlin, who directs security; Dean Fuller, in charge of maintenance; and Jayne Suprenant, office and ticket manager. They are assisted by 40 to 45 part-time people during the camping season, which extends from May 1 to October 15.
When the summer concert season ends in September, Suzette immediately begins the process of scheduling performers and negotiating contracts for the following summer and continues that interactive process all winter long.
The search starts with a list of artists she’d like to have come, which includes a combination of who's up and coming, requests from fans, and advice from agents. “We want a couple of newcomers every year,” she says, “along with those who have a steady following that we know will bring people in. We also like to pull in a couple of the country music legends like Loretta Lynn and Charlie Daniels, and this year that includes Willie Nelson.”
Suzette then reaches out to the performers’ agents to see if they might be routing them through New England the following summer. Most performers won’t fly out to do a concert at just one place, she notes. They want to do three or four in a given geography.
“After that, it becomes a big waiting game,” she says.
Long-time country music lovers will notice that in recent years about half of the bands at Indian Ranch have been from other musical genres: classic rock such as Three Dog Night and Grand Funk Railroad, alternative rock such as Barenaked Ladies, and soft rock like Kenny Loggins. This summer there will also be a blues concert with B.B. King.
Suzette explains that several things account for the change. Country music, once confined to just a small percentage of the New England audience, has become much more popular in the last ten years. She attributes it to the music becoming more mainstream with such performers as American Idol’s Carrie Underwood. As a result many more musical venues in New England now bring in country artists, so that competition has become the rule. Indian Ranch has to compete with other New England stages to get the acts it would like.
But Indian Ranch has benefited from the American Idol phenomenon too. Kelly Pickler performed here in 2012, and Scotty McCreery, the venue's all time best seller, will be back for a third time.
To fill the season, Indian Ranch has broadened its musical base, and by extension, its customer base. Suzette said that the number of patrons has doubled in the last decade. People have come from all over Massachusetts, RI, Connecticut, northern New England and some from as far as Canada.
Some artists bring their own opening acts, while Suzette arranges for others. In addition, there's a performance on the Corral Stage on the pavilion beginning at noon on concert days. This gives local bands an opportunity to also play for the Indian Ranch audience.
The Indian Ranch amphitheater main stage has seen some upgrades in the last few years. It's been enlarged and refaced to give it a new appearance. The seating has been upgraded and the power system has been improved as well. Seating capacity is 3,000, partially sheltered.
On concert day the band's crew arrives by semi truck and/or bus early in the morning to unload and set up the stage and sound equipment. When the gates open at noon, everything is ready. Most artists will do a meet-and-greet with the public, usually before the show, although Suzette says she often doesn't know whether or not they will do it until that day.
Concerts go on rain or shine. The only one ever canceled was during a hurricane a few years ago. Bring a raincoat just in case; no umbrellas are allowed. Parking logistics can be a bit problematic during very popular concerts. Indian Ranch has free parking on site, and also reserved VIP parking for $20. But if you get there too late for Indian Ranch's parking, the neighbors along Rt. 16 are happy to help. Many of them provide parking for a fee on their lawns. Another possible option is parking at the Lodge Restaurant just a bit down the road if you plan to eat there afterward.
The Indian Ranch Campground is as popular as the concerts. “We're almost sold out of sites,” said Suzette. “We're 90% full.” The campground has also had its share of upgrades since her family bought Indian Ranch ten years ago, including the addition of 60 camp sites for a total of 200, upgraded water, sewer and electric, a new laundry room and a new swimming pool and bath house. The campground accommodates motor homes and RVs; tents are not allowed. One of the perks for seasonal campers is free admission to the Sunday afternoon concerts.
The third part of the business, the functions facilities, is coordinated in partnership with the Eighty-Ates restaurants, which took over management of all catered events last last year. Now called the Eighty-Ates Banquet Facilities at Indian Ranch, the function hall has had facelift with new paint, new fixtures, new entry with a custom-built waterfall, and improved landscaping. Eighty Ates co-owner Trevor Dieffenwierth says they have brought on an event coordinator, Jennifer Nieto, to plan the functions: weddings on the beach, barbecues, corporate functions, holiday parties, and fundraisers.
Trevor said that for now the Indian Ranch events business will be seasonal, from April through December, but that may change in the future. He also noted that events cannot start until 6:30 on concert days, and that once a month, on the last Friday, oldies radio station WORC-FM holds its popular Dance Parties in the banquet hall.
Indian Ranch is located at 200 Gore Road (Rt. 16) in Webster.