Riders in the Sky close Glenwood Springs Community Concert Association series
Glenwood Springs Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Interviewing a group as successful as Riders in the Sky can be a little daunting.
In the last 30-odd years, the beloved country western quintet has performed its mix of classic and original music at some 5,400 shows in 10 countries and all 50 states. The Riders have had their own television programs and been guests on countless more. They’ve won Grammys and have made a name for themselves on public radio. They’ve played at USO shows, the Hollywood Bowl, even the White House. Starting in 1982, these cowpokes have been the only solely country western band in the Grand Ole Opry. And all this is, of course, quite an abridged version of their history.
Guitarist Ranger Doug is an all-around friendly guy.
He and the rest of the boys were sitting in their Winnebago, stuck on the side of the road, somewhere in Nebraska, trying their best to get to their next gig.
“I’ve got nothing else to do but listen to the wind blow, so let’s talk,” Doug said.
And so he did, for no less than an hour.
This all started in the late 1970s, he started in, when he and some musician friends played one night of classic Western tunes at a Nashville club. The songs, from the likes of Gene Autry and the Sons of the Pioneers, weren’t about being down-and-out or getting drunk. This was upbeat stuff, which harkened back to their childhood. To Doug’s surprise, it caught on like nothing he’d done before. People responded instantly, and the young group decided to see where the tunes might take them.
“We turn around, and the kids are grown, and we’re still on the road!” he said, summing up decades of success.
“To me, this entire career is a miracle,” he later said with a laugh.
He definitely had a bit of awe in his voice.
These days, the fellows are unmistakable with their bright, Western shirts and towering cowboy hats. With names such as Too Slim, Woody Paul and Joey, the CowPolka King, they sound and look like something from a long-gone era. Yet there’s more than just nostalgia going on here ” Doug was sure. Their songs might be light and funny, but they’ve also got lasting power behind them. Maybe this is because they speak of universal themes, such as the need for love or freedom or wide, open spaces. Maybe Riders fans simply like having fun.
“There’s a lot of great music in America that deserves its place in the sun, and we’re a part of that,” Doug said, proudly.
He described a typical Riders show, complete with yodeling, laughing and “four grown men in big hats, having a great time.”
While they perform their share of familiar old-time cowboy hits, they also do a fair amount of original tunes. Basically, he explained, they take whatever music they’ve known and loved throughout the years and boil it down into happy, twangy pieces. While it all sounds country on-stage, the original songs might be channeling jazz, opera, Broadway ” whatever the Riders have listened to over the last 55 or so years of living.
According to Doug, somehow this speaks to people, all walks of them.
There’s definitely an older crowd that comes to the shows. He thought the performances might remind them of when the melodies were new.
When it comes to baby boomers like himself, perhaps it’s more about pure entertainment. They’ve got mortgages and “surly teenagers,” he said. Maybe they need a laugh.
For the children in attendance, there’s a basic mystique about cowboys. It’s something that Doug can’t ever see riding off into the sunset.
“Whether they’re from Pennsylvania or Wyoming, it doesn’t matter,” he explained. “It’s just an American idea we all grow up with.”
In Doug’s eyes, the Riders’ allegiance of fans care too much about the music for it to just be a novelty act.
As he put it, “We’re having a lot of fun with it, but we’re not making fun of it.”
Later, he talked about the future of the band. At their age, he explained, one can’t help but plan ahead. That said, they’ve got no dreams of retiring any time soon. Even after so many shows, their interaction with the audience keeps their performances fresh and vital.
This music is no fad, he continued, and every day he counts his blessing to be a part of it. This is something bigger than him, bigger than the band, too. Doug could only imagine it carrying on, far into the future.
“It can’t stop with us,” he stressed. “It has to continually be reintroduced by someone that can appeal to a younger generation.”
Whoever that might be, they’ll certainly have some mighty big cowboy boots to fill.
Contact Stina Sieg: 384-9111
Post Independent Glenwood Springs CO Colorado
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