The Depot’s journey from train station to concert venue | Culture

Two decades since its transformation into an arts center, The Depot is finishing the year with a sold-out concert by Oklahoma City band, Miss Brown to You.

The Depot was built in 1909, and served as a train station for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. The city of Norman took ownership in 1979 and transformed it into a community space in the mid-1980s.

In 2003, Nancy McClellan, who served as executive director of the Norman Firehouse Art Center, helped reinvent it as a space for the arts.

While at the Norman Firehouse Art Center, Nancy helped plan the Summer Breeze Concert Series, a free concert series held between May and September.

Nancy brought the concert series with her to The Depot, which became the new host of Summer Breeze.

Formerly titled the Winter Wind Concert Series, the Depot Concert series, held on select Sundays from October to December, was co-founded by Nancy’s son, Mark McClellan. 

Concerts are held in a 100-capacity listening room with chairs set up to pull focus to the artist. According to Mark, this creates an intimate atmosphere that differs from larger venues or bars, where live music is secondary to the social setting.

“You can hear every nuance of their playing and performing, you can see the emotions on their face,” Mark said. “It’s that intimacy that you don’t get in other, larger venues.”

The Depot Concert series began as a way to bring “house concert” style performances to a public setting, Mark said. Late board member Carolyn “Becky” Grider had been hosting house concerts in her living room and suggested moving the series to The Depot.

“House concerts are really difficult because you have to move all the furniture out of your living room,” Mark said. “It just seemed like a great opportunity for Becky to continue her house concert series, but in a more official capacity with The Depot.”

The Depot

The Depot on Sept. 26, 2022.

Though also an art gallery and event space, The Depot is still an operating train station. Depot programs manager Danielle Tipton said musicians are encouraged to embrace the venue’s history, by learning “train songs” to perform in the event that a freight train passes by during a performance.

Train songs – songs about trains or that were sung on trains – were popular in the 1800s, when trains were the most advanced form of transportation.

“There are a lot of train songs that exist, and there’s not really a good place to perform them,” Tipton said. “But here, when a train is happening, we just kind of like to give a nod to them.”

When booking musicians, Tipton said The Depot looks for established artists with original music and stories to tell.

“Our mission here at The Depot is to create and curate art that brings together communities,” Tipton said. “Part of being a community is really getting to know people (and) these shared experiences.”

This year’s fall series featured five artists, including Italian artist Beppe Gambetta and Oklahoma singer-songwriter Travis Linville. The final show of the year is sold out, and will feature holiday-themed performances by Oklahoma City band, Miss Brown to You.

Miss Brown to You has been performing holiday shows at The Depot since 2021, bringing sounds to the stage that are reminiscent of the jazz classics of the early 20th century.

“It’ll kind of remind you of the music you grew up with, you know, at Christmas,” Mary Reynolds, founding member of Miss Brown to You, said. “A lot of the ‘Golden Oldies’ are on this (set) list, and so it’s a little bit nostalgic.”

The Depot Concert series will return in February. More information on The Depot and its events can be found on the venue’s website.

This story was edited by Emma Blakley. Mary Ann Livingood copy edited this story.

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