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Wyoming loves being the "Cowboy State." Everywhere you look, the image of the brave cowboy hanging on to his spirited, untamed bucking bronc adorns license plates, billboards, T-shirts, and commemorative quarters. Although the cavalry soldier, homesteader, railroad worker and miner are more representative of Wyoming's early settlers, the cowboy has, for the past century and a half, been the premiere image on the collective Wyoming mind and landscape. Since the 1880s, cowboys have been herding in the Wyoming ranges. Guest ranches grew up alongside the cattle operations, beginning as early as 1904 to offer authentic working ranch experiences to ‘dudes.' Today, the majority of Wyomingites consciously connect themselves to ranching and the rural life — "a little bit cowboy by choice" — and cowboy hats continue to outnumber hard hats. The Bar J Wranglers, made up of retired cowboy singer Babe Humphrey's oldest son, Scott, his youngest son, Bryan, his adopted son, Tim Hodgson, and his friends Donnie Cook and Danny Rogers, are cowboys by choice, and honest-to-goodness cowboy musicians by graceful talent.
At the Bar J Ranch that lies beneath the dramatic skyline of Wyoming's Teton Range, just beyond the town of Wilson (pop. 200), the Bar J Wranglers' nightly supper and show attracts a regional audience and a "seeking-the-western-way-of-life-from-May-through-September" crowd. Scott quips that the Wranglers' audience is from Wy-Utaho, the largest state in the U.S. Repeat Intermountain West customers bring guests along for a show that heaps on a generous dose of Western hospitality alongside the steak and beans, and shares in the Wranglers' rural western humor, work ethic and civic pride.
Babe Humphrey, father and founder, began the Bar J Ranch and Wranglers thirty-one years ago, serving as trail boss, producer, manager and arranger. The Humphrey children pitched in by directing parking, taking tickets, serving food and cleaning up afterwards. Joining the Wranglers on stage would come later-after college and auditions. Sons Scott and Bryan showed talent, showmanship and interest in joining their father in the 1980s, and the family's performing opportunities grew from summer seasons on the ranch to off-season tours throughout the Intermountain West and eventually to both coasts and abroad. After a fifty year career, Babe has retired from performing, although he continues to stop by to ensure that the business runs smoothly, the guests are happy, and the harmonies are still sung true.
The Wranglers stick to a classic cowboy repertoire, drawing from Hollywood crooners like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, and cowboy musicians such as Sons of the Pioneers, performing music their fans grew up with. Cowboy standards are arranged into velvety four-part harmonies to highlight each musician's vocal and musical expertise. Originals written by Bryan are so steeped in the style that the audience may not know they are contemporary works. Each evening's show begins with an a cappella arrangement and is closed with an inspirational piece. There is no star among the Wranglers and no special backstage dressing rooms. The Wranglers join the crew in seating guests, serving grub, and pouring coffee, before going on stage to sing and to provide comedic interludes to their waiting guests.
To keep the show fresh for over two hundred performances a year, the Wranglers rely on their roots, spontaneity, and experience. They work hard and sing from their hearts. Each member has deep roots in the ranch/rural community of the West and each loves what the music says about the Western lifestyle. The Wrangler's hospitality, the Bar J Ranch atmosphere, the "end-of-the-trail" music and the Dutch-oven biscuits blend together like their luscious four-part harmonies and create a distinctive experience that resonates with the heartbeat of the American West.
Anne F. Hatch
The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to "preserve and present American Folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs, and training. The Center includes the American Folklife Center Archive of folk culture, which was established in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world. Please visit our web site.
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event archive >> homegrown concert series archive >> 2008 concerts >> concert flyer for the bar j wranglers 2008