GUNNISON — Winning two Grammy Awards. Playing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Performing at the Grand Ole Opry.
All are major milestones for Riders in the Sky.
But when the comedy cowboy band based out of Nashville recalls the most memorable career milestone since forming in 1977, two words come to mind: Roy Rogers.
“He was just so great to work with,” said lead singer and guitarist Doug Green on the road to a show in Gunnison, Colo.
Green, who goes by the stage name Ranger Doug when he performs, said the western music icon played with Riders in the Sky while recording for the popular country and comedy variety show “Hee Haw.”
“Near the end of his life, he was paired up to play with a lot of bands that weren’t necessarily western,” Green said. “When he played with us, he just lit up. He looked about 10 years younger. It was fun for him to play with the kind of band he started with.”
Green said Riders in the Sky has enjoyed a long career of success in a distinctive niche that melds western cowboy music with on-stage comedy antics. In the last 30 years, the quartet has played Roy Rogers-inspired western music at the Grand Ole Opry, the Hollywood Bowl, and for Pixar’s blockbuster film “Toy Story 2” and the “For the Birds” short. Riders in the Sky has won two Grammy Awards in the Best Musical Album for Children category — one for “Woody’s Roundup: A Rootin’ Tootin’ Collection of Woody’s Favorite Songs” and in 2003 for “Monsters, Inc. Scream Factory Favorites.”
“We’re not a kids’ act, per se, but we’re definitely family-friendly. If there’s one song we always play, every time, it’s ‘Woody’s Roundup’ from ‘Toy Story,’” Green said. “It’s always fun to see the 20-somethings in the crowd who recognize it and say, ‘I remember that song. I sang it like 10,000 times by the time I was 6.’”
Along with Green, the group includes singer and fiddler Paul Chrisman, better known as Woody Paul; vocalist and bassist Fred LaBour, stage name Too Slim; and Joey “Cowpolka King” Miskulin on accordion. Riders in the Sky has appeared at thousands of county fairs, community events, and historic theaters similar to Rifle’s New Ute Theatre and Events Center, where they will play at 7:30 p.m. Friday to a sold-out crowd.
“We play places like that all over the country,” Green said. “We love old restored theaters. They just have a great vibe.”
Concert organizer and comic Don Chaney, cultural and special events manager for the city of Rifle, was not surprised the show was the Ute’s first sold-out show since opening in the spring — a milestone in itself.
“I think it sold well because it is a family-friendly country show, and the kids know the band from ‘Toy Story’ movies,” Chaney said.
Friday’s sold-out show at the Ute is the band’s 6,711 cowboy comedy concert.
“There aren’t many people in this industry dedicated to preserving this niche,” Green said. “We all moved to Nashville with intentions of becoming professional musicians. We’re just lucky lightning struck.”
After the Rifle concert, Riders in the Sky heads to Wyoming for western music performances in Thermopolis and Casper. The band then travels to Utah and Montana.