Just a few days after moving from Nashville to Wimberley on April 1, 2008, singer-songwriter Kevin Welch started hearing about the nearby Blue Rock Artist Ranch and Studio. "You know how when there's a movie that people keep telling you that you've gotta see?" says Welch. "It was like that. It makes me not want to see the movie."
But when Welch attended a concert by friend Sam Baker at Blue Rock's 120-capacity listening room in February and took a stroll around the grounds, he realized that the magnificent setting had not been oversold.
Built from 2003 to 2006 with 50 tons of weathered limestone as the dominant material, the 19-acre Blue Rock compound is an artist retreat like none other, with a tower and a "Quiet House" for songwriting inspiration and several scenic paths cut into the juniper trees. There are rustic campfire circles and the best views are marked with tables and chairs, so ideas can be jotted down in the solitude. The acts who record in the studio live in guesthouses on the property.
Blue Rock would not exist if a couple from Dallas, escaping the big city with a motorcycle ride through the Hill Country in March 2000, had just turned around when they came to a spot high above Wimberley where the road ended. Instead Dodee Frost Crockett, vice president of investments for Merrill Lynch, and her husband, musician/producer Billy Crockett, decided to park their RC 1200 BMW Cruiser and explore the uncleared terrain.
When they came to a rocky crest, overlooking a big blue rock, which seems to float in the middle of Loneman Creek, they stood there, speechless, breathing in the pure air. "Finally, I said, 'If we can forget about this, we probably should,' " says Billy Crockett, who has recorded 11 albums in his career, several in the contemporary Christian field. Of course they couldn't and ended up buying the land.
"It was never our intention to just build a country house," he says, "but to be caretakers of a place that will inspire others." They wanted to create something special together, something that reflected each of their personalities. "We don't have children, but we have Blue Rock," he says. Blue Rock, also home to foxes, turkeys, deer, roadrunners and other wildlife, was built with the couple's life savings.
Sweethearts at suburban Dallas' Richardson High in the '70s, who went their separate ways before reuniting in 1992, the Crocketts hired Austin architects Lou Kimball and Emily Little to recreate the utopia in their minds. It was the first time the two had worked together. A big hurdle came when it looked doubtful they'd find all the limestone needed. Then one day the Crocketts got a call from their stone mason Pat Cope, who said "I have your rock," after negotiating deals with several area landowners. It was a major fist-pumping moment in the three-year building project.
The stone was the foundation of the vision. "There are words underneath the rocks, as Norman Maclean famously said. There are melodies and relationships, too," says Crockett, whose library at Blue Rock is filled with books on philosophy, architecture, history, religion and art. Both descendants of Alamo heroes — Davy Crockett for Billy Crockett and James Bonham for Dodee Crockett — the Crocketts are Texas history buffs, which is reflected in Blue Rock's design. The tower, built to influence expansion of ideas, is straight from old Texas forts. The studio's live room, where such songwriters as Sarah Jarosz, David Wilcox and Grace Pettis, plus jazz composer Paul English, have set up, is based on an old garrison, where the officers would've bunked. But when it's in session, the state-of-the-art studio is more David Bowie than Jim Bowie. "You can actually tune the room," Welch says, referring to panels on the walls that can be flipped from wood to cloth surfaces and angled to control the flow of sound.
The studio's control room was designed with help from a most notable consultant, recording legend Rupert Neve, who oversaw the analog/digital hybrid console, and designed studio mikes, preamps and other equipment. Neve and his wife, Evelyn, have lived in Wimberley for 15 years.
Dodee Crockett, who's been with Merrill Lynch for 28 years and manages $1 billion in clients' assets, splits time between the Dallas area, where the couple keeps a loft, and Blue Rock. She sees a similarity between what she does in both places.
"Blue Rock is an investment in the future of our sanity," she says. "I'm able to breathe there like I can't anywhere else. It's peaceful and reconnective and when I go back to work, I have even more energy."
Nine years ago, a stressed-out Dallas couple set out to get lost and instead found themselves and a place where they felt they belong.