The lights are turned low in the building. The stage lights shine on two performers preparing to share their craft. They adjust instruments and listen to their voices, looking for perfection from the monitors and speakers. As the burning sun sets and the dim room fills with people opening their hearts and absorbing the melodies into their souls, two musicians blend their voices to create a Texas summer memory. In 1998, brothers Guy and Pipp Gillette opened Camp Street Café in order to allow musicians, both famous and fledgling, an intimate evening entertaining and interacting with fans of genres varying across the musical spectrum.
If you appreciate history and folklore; if your musical palate ranges from rock ballads to Celtic music, from Jazz to Rhythm and Blues; and if you are seeking a Texas treasure, then enter Camp Street Café and Store into your GPS and follow Highway 19 to Crockett, Texas. Along the road, you will see a number of Texas Historical Markers. Walk along the streets to experience an interactive encounter on The Crockett Blues Tour. Your final destination, however, will speak volumes of musical history to consumers who stop, relax, enjoy, and imbibe from this oasis of nostalgia.
Musicians Pipp and his late brother Guy always had plans to return to Texas to take over the family ranch. They were based in the Northeast and had received marvelous reviews in The New York Times as well as Variety. At the time, they also had a singer/songwriter deal with Leiber and Stoller. “We had played most of the clubs in New York City. We were writing our own material, and a lot of it was based on Texas. We finally said, ‘Maybe it would be a good idea to be a Texas band in Texas.’…We started the band and began playing some of the local roadhouses, beer joints, and honky tonks. That was an education in and of itself in the early 80s… People wanted to hear the songs with which they were familiar, the songs on the radio. So, we started to play some of the hit songs we liked, and we also started doing what we always had done, which was go back and see from where this music had come. We were playing Lefty Frizzell, Webb Pierce, and Bob Wills. We were doing the early songs. We were enjoying learning more about the music,” Pipp shared as we strolled among the treasures hidden in this Texas gem.
On the original site where The Camp Street Café and Store exist today, sat a barber shop, pool hall, café, and taxi stand. Although gambling and drinking were outlawed at the time, locals found ways to skirt the law, perhaps with a few blind-eyes turned by local enforcement agencies. The businesses, which shared a common bathroom, found ways to quickly dispose of any incriminating evidence when outside law enforcers were on their way. Items such as pool balls, beer cans, dice, knives, dominos, and a deck of cards, which would have sent the possessor to jail, have been retrieved from a space between the inside and exterior back walls. Viewing these items in the display case, causes one’s mind to imagine the raucous, good times of a people embracing music that transcended politics, economics, and even race.
A mule barn, wagon yard, cotton gin, and railroad depot brought many people into this town from the surrounding rural areas. Many would camp along this strip of land, which eventually came to be known as Camp Street. “Everyone came to town on the weekends with their money to gamble, to drink,” Pipp imparted. “My grandfather had it (the current location of Camp Street Café and Store) built. He basically owned this whole street.”
Autographed pictures and posters, as well as historical prints of singers, drummers, guitar players, and entertainers fill practically every inch of the walls. A museum of the artists who nourished the roots of American music awaits the perusal of music aficionados or dabblers of the arts. Kinky Friedman left behind one of his cigars to make his mark on this historic joint. A statue of Lightning Jack, one of the most influential Texas guitar players, watches over the establishment from across the street. A picture of Charles “Honeyman” Otis, who has played the drums for Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Professor Longhair, the Dixie Cups, and more, graces a wall near the back of the store.
A variety of bands, duos, and individual artists, including Michael Martin Murphy, Texas Johnny Brown, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, and more, play at this venue. Although the shows begin at 8 p.m., the doors open to music lovers at 7 p.m. A concession stand sells beverages and the usual fare. A BYOB policy allows customers to bring in their own alcoholic beverages, which reduces the cost of a “night on the town.” The singers play two 45-minute sets with a 15-20 minute intermission. “As a musician, from the stage point of view, this is the kind of place that you love to play: where people are right there, they are listening to you, and it is great!” Pipp said, commenting on the intimacy of the location and from his own experience as a performer across the nation.
Information concerning upcoming shows can, of course, be found on the Camp Street Café website. However, supporters are also treated to a preview of what’s to come every Saturday morning on KIVY, a 50,000 watt radio station out of Crockett. The “Camp Street Café and Store Music Hour” treats listeners to all the music of performers who will be stepping onto the Camp Street stage. “It is a rare thing for some of the performers to receive any kind of airplay today,” disclosed Pipp. On one of his CDs, a recent singer thanked Camp Street as well as other intimate venues which support struggling artists. “The performers often will say, ‘I don’t usually talk this much! I don’t even play this song usually, but I feel like I will do it tonight.’ On a good night when it is all clicking, it is great for the performer. It (playing to an intimate crowd) is why people wanted to do music,” Pipp mused as he thought back to many of the artists who have delighted crowds in this quaint building. Since Crockett is somewhat centralized between Dallas, Houston, and Austin, many touring musicians will fill up their schedule by making a stop in this historic Texas town.
The souvenirs offered to patrons include locally made yo-yos, T-shirts, coffee cups, CDs by the Gillette brothers as well as other artists, homemade candles and brooms, and more. Pipp’s artistic talents exist beyond music. The store also carries paper-mache masks he has made and duck decoys he has carved. Sit back as you sip your beverage of choice, walk out with a memento to remind you of a night immersed in live music, and bring back friends to share in the ambiance of a well-done, intimate show.
215 S. Third Street
Crockett, Texas 75835