How a song from West Virginia ended up marketing tourism in Oklahoma

The redbuds are in full bloom at the Core Arboretum.

And so was the delighted laugh this past Thursday afternoon of a certain director of the old-growth expanse off Patteson Drive — as soon as he learned of the trajectory a certain local song that celebrates the colorful tree is now taking … in Oklahoma.

“Chris is out here a lot,” Zach Fowler said.

“That’s awesome. Great song. I’m gonna have to congratulate him.”

Fowler is a WVU biology professor who oversees the botanical doings of the place rescued from the development boom at the end of World War II, when soldiers-turned-students on the G.I. Bill began marching into Morgantown.

He’s referring to his university colleague Chris Haddox, a professor of sustainable design who also knows how to pick a guitar and write a song.

In 2021, Haddox, with the help of Mountain Stage musical director Ron Sowell, released a self-titled album of original tunes, heartfelt and hilarious, that are still netting solid play on the Americana charts, here and overseas.

Haddox is even currently tied with Willie Nelson on one of those charts.

We’ll get to that.

You can even hear an Earth Day connection in the current context of the tale of that certain tune.

We’ll get to that, also.

Redbud road trip

The Haddox-penned song that these days is catching the ears, and eyes, of all those Oklahoma wranglers, cowboys and two-steppers is, “Nothing Says It’s Springtime Like the Redbud.”

It’s a Western Swing-styled number that sounds like it would be right at home on a Bob Wills bandstand in a Tulsa dance hall.

Haddox wrote the song in his head while behind the wheel.

He was motoring back to Morgantown from Charleston on Interstate 79 when he was charmed by all the redbuds he kept seeing.

After the song was on CD, he decided to explore the marketing roots it might sprout.

“I started wondering how many states adopted the redbud as their state tree,” the professor and songwriter said.

Only one, as it turned out: Oklahoma.

So he pitched it — and not all that long after, he actually heard back.

The tourism marketers loved it and wanted to use it in a campaign video promoting state parks in, yes, their Redbud State.

Haddox even tweaked one lyric for an Oklahoma reference.

The edition by Discover Oklahoma, a weekly television spot about stay-at-home tourism, features jump-cuts of state parks.

Oklahoma state parks. With all those great Oklahoma state park names.

Robbers Cove.

Roman Nose.

Quartz Mountain and Texoma, too.

A bevy of school children sing along in this redbud take, with help from Lauren Nelson, a proud daughter of Lawton, who became Miss America 2007.

You can watch the video on the Discover Oklahoma Facebook page.

“Have a listen to Chris and his band, with some local Redbud fans joining in, as we pay tribute to the princess of spring, ‘Cercis canadensis,’” the page says, by way of introduction.

Don’t take it all

Fowler says he’s just glad that Irvin Stewart listened to Earl L. Core (yes, that one) when the two started talking in earnest in 1948.

Stewart was president of WVU and Core, a professor, was a star in the biology department, where his work in botany was already blooming international renown.

Three years after America’s victories in Europe and Japan, the Mountain State’s flagship university was a getting-bigger place in an even-bigger hurry.

Large parcels of land were being acquired in Suncrest, including the Krepps and Dille family farms, to establish an Evansdale campus.

Core knew how it could all come down, Fowler said.

River of fire

Monday is Earth Day, the eco-awareness happening founded in 1970, a year after Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River actually caught fire, so polluted as it was, with mounds of trash floating on an oil slick.

It also hit in the middle of West Virginia’s then-robust back-to-the-land movement, which, Fowler said, owes a bit of its debt to a biologist with a bent for botany and land preservation.

Core convinced Stewart to set aside 91 acres, tucked behind where the WVU Coliseum is now located, as a safe haven for nature that gets even more dense and green, the arboretum director said — as one treks down its sloping trails canopied by towering trees and punctuated by diverse shocks of wildflowers.

“There are trees down here that are 200 years old,” Fowler said, “and probably ones older than that.”

The arboretum, which WVU named in Core’s honor in 1975, is Earth Day with a Hallmark-movie happy ending.

“Earl L. Core is a hero,” Fowler said of the advocate of all things outdoors who died in 1984, “and this place is a treasure.”

Buds (with my bud)

Meanwhile, Haddox, the Core Arboretum frequenter, said he appreciates his song is now being used to inspire people to get out and about in Oklahoma.

Not that he takes his treasure of songwriting skills too seriously at times, he said.

As evidenced by his current association with the aforementioned Willie Nelson.

The Morgantown songwriter and the troubadour from Texas are both occupying the No. 14 spot on Folk Alliance International music chart at this moment.

Haddox, for “Nothing Says It’s Springtime Like the Redbud” and Nelson, for “The Border.”

“Hey, I’ll take a tie with Willie any day,” Haddox said.

“I’m now associated with the redbud and he’s always been associated with another kind of bud. Maybe we oughta go on tour.”

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