Our social life is limited when we are busy and broke, and with two books in the air you can bet we are both! So it was a treat when Libby’s friend and former employee Linda Hausler got in touch to tell us that her and her husband Ric Steinke’s old- time cowboy band, Open Range, was coming down from Livingston to play at The Bistro, one of our favorite local restaurant- pubs.
One of our favorite popular musical genres (along with English folk, ancient punk, Baroque, 19th century Russian…) is Western– as opposed to mainstream Nashville top 40 Country and Western. Its boundaries are broad; it includes the sometimes dark, realistic songs by (the masters) Ian Tyson and early Tom Russell and poems about doomed bull riders by Paul Zarzyski, and runs from there to early Hollywood cowboy music, folk songs, and the Texas jazz of country swing, from Bob Wills to Merle Haggard. My late friend, Maine’s John Lincoln Wright, often played some version of the last despite being a lifelong Yankee. I like it all.
But it is not necessarily a popular taste, and I think Ric was worried that we wouldn’t like it. Over afternoon drinks at the Spur, with a jukebox track of everything from 70’s rock to Elvis to Buddy Holly, he kept telling us that they played neither rock nor mainstream country, and my “I knows” were not reassuring. Perhaps if we had mentioned we know Tom, or that Zarzyski has shared beers with me in the Spur, he would have relaxed.
On the way down the hill next evening, I remembered how much my friend Sis (Gianera Pound) Olney, cowgirl (or in a grumpy mood “cowboy bitch”), 5th generation rancher, new grandma, lion hunter(nice video of her husband and nephew in that link), early adapter of Annie P and Cormac McC, and “cousin”–I will blog this someday– loved this kind of music. But she lives in a trailer house eighteen miles off the pavement with no electricity, and I couldn’t think of a way to get her.
We arrived an hour before the band to eat, and were the only people there that early. Five minutes after we sat down, Sis walked through the door with her friend Roxanne, sat down at our table, and said “you ought to stick around– there’s a cowboy band playing and I hear they’re real good!
They were. Their material was eclectic and their taste outstanding– Tom’s old Navajo Rug, a lighthearted Zarzyski about early rodeo cowgirls I had never heard (Sis: “those are my heroes!”); melancholy ballads and western swing dance tunes, Rose of San Antone and Don’t Fence Me In (Ric, who seems something of a historian, filling us in on how Cole Porter happened to collaborate with a small- town Wyoming poet on that one!) Add sweet harmony on vocals, instrumental virtuosity– Linda on rhythm guitar and Indian flute and Ric picking and improvising on solos, not to mention doing a believable imitation of pedal steel by playing his guitar horizontally with a slide. I think he realized we knew what “western” was, especially as Sis, Lib, and I sang along (Sis again: “we knew the lyrics to every song except the ones they wrote!”
Good times. If they come to your town, check them out. And if you like that kind of music you can get their albums at The Open Range website— I believe there is a new one coming soon.
A few more pix:
Ric picks for that mournful steel sound.
Linda & Lib