Idyllic country setting adds some pop

Little Feat brings rock to Indian Ranch

The atmosphere at Indian Ranch is decidedly country, with a life-size carving of Charlie Daniels, but this year’s lineup includes several pop and rock acts. The atmosphere at Indian Ranch is decidedly country, with a life-size carving of Charlie Daniels, but this year’s lineup includes several pop and rock acts. (JONATHAN WIGGS/GLOBE STAFF)
By Scott McLennan
Globe Correspondent / July 29, 2011

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WEBSTER - Earlier this month, Los Lobos fans got to see the band in a new light: a cool wash of moonlight courtesy of the celestial silver disc looming above the Indian Ranch stage while the group coursed through a Saturday-night repertoire of Latino-laced blues, rock, folk, and dance music.

“It felt like going to summer camp. The lake, the trees, the whole setting. It doesn’t feel corporate at all,’’ said Dave Herlihy a few days after taking in the Los Lobos concert at Indian Ranch in Webster.

Going to Indian Ranch was a new experience for Herlihy, even though the venue has been operating for 65 years, and he’s been in tune with the Massachusetts music scene since the mid-’80s. That includes his tenure in the band O Positive, his work as an entertainment lawyer, and his job teaching students at Northeastern University about the music industry.

Herlihy and all the other rock fans “discovering’’ Indian Ranch this summer thanks to Los Lobos and tonight’s Little Feat show can be forgiven. After all, Indian Ranch made its name as New England’s beachhead for country music, welcoming such legends as Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson and giving fans first looks at the likes of Brad Paisley and Kenny Chesney well before this region became a popular stop for country acts.

Yet with 2,750 seats tucked amid towering trees and next to a scenic lake, Indian Ranch is a venue that its owners believe can woo more than country fans.

“I live in Marlborough, and when I tell people I work at Indian Ranch, they say, ‘Where?’ ’’ said Suzette Raun, president of the family business running the Indian Ranch campground, concert venue, and function hall.

When Raun reached out to Brattle Entertainment in Cambridge for some guidance in adding pop and rock acts to the Ranch’s schedule, she got Denise Kirk on the phone.

“I’ve been in the business for 32 years. When Suzette called and asked if I knew Indian Ranch, I said, ‘Yeah, the place in Rhode Island, right?’ ’’ recalled Kirk, adding that she then quizzed her boss, concert impresario Don Law, about what he knew of it, and his response was, “You mean that place in Connecticut?’’

Indian Ranch actually is about 16 miles south of Worcester and occupies roughly 25 acres on Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, which is commonly referred to as Webster Lake and accessed from Gore Road. After its founding by Ernest Wallis, two generations of the Sadowsky family and talent booker Abe Ford nurtured Indian Ranch into a beloved destination for country fans. The boomtown architecture, birch signs, and wooden snack shacks have remained intact, but for cosmetic touch-ups. Totem poles and a life-size wood carving of Charlie Daniels are among the decorative touches.

The current owners did not have backgrounds in the music or camping businesses and thought they were getting involved with an investment. But it didn’t take long for them to fall in love with the place.

“My father comes to the shows wearing his cowboy hat and big belt buckle,’’ Raun said. “Believe me, I didn’t see that growing up.’’

The family purchased Indian Ranch eight years ago and first focused on upgrading the 125-site campground. Raun said she now wants to tweak the concert side of the business, but is being careful not to disrupt Indian Ranch’s country legacy.

Indian Ranch in recent years has dabbled in non-country shows by Grand Funk Railroad and Three Dog Night. But this year, it added Kenny Loggins, Los Lobos, Little Feat, Blue Oyster Cult, Barenaked Ladies, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds to such offerings as George Jones, Charlie Daniels, and Jo Dee Messina. Advance tickets are now moving as quickly for Barenaked Ladies as for Dwight Yoakam.

Almost all the country shows hold to the traditional 2 p.m. Sunday performance time, and some of the pop shows take place during the day, too, so attendees can fully partake of the Indian Ranch experience, with gates opening a few hours before the shows. Concertgoers can bring food and non-alcoholic drinks in with them.

“People should come early,’’ Raun said. “They can bring coolers to the beach, use the grills, go for a paddle boat ride, and stay for the concert.’’

Evening shows don’t allow for full beach use, or for bringing coolers, though kids can get half-price general-admission tickets (while supplies last) and cars park on site for no charge.

“When you come here, you can mosey around and still hear the music,’’ Raun said.

Scott McLennan can be reached at

LITTLE FEAT At: Indian Ranch, Webster, tonight. 508-943-3871,