Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
You could almost feel the wind blowing through the canyon and down the back of your neck.
You could almost see the glorious explosion of color as if the sun were setting across that big ole Montana sky.
And, heck, you could almost smell the beans ‘n’ biscuits cookin’ up on the faux, flickering cellophane campfire at center stage.
Yes, cowboys and cowgirls, Riders in the Sky had rambled into town, finally making their long overdue Troy Savings Bank Music Hall debut after 34-and-a-half years and 6,250 previous concerts.
Of course, they were all bedecked in their finest, spangled western-wear and their crystal clear prairie harmonies – guitarist Ranger Doug, the Idol of American Youth; Woody Paul, the King of the Cowboy Fiddlers; bassist Too Slim, the Man of a Thousand Hats; and accordionist Joey, the Cowpolka King.
Riders in the Sky have long been carrying the torch, keeping alive the nearly forgotten campfire songs of the cowboys and the wonderful old songs that celebrate the spirit of the wild, wild west.
Over the course of two jam-packed 50-minute sets, the Riders served up plenty of cowboy classics – the rippling “Cool Water,” the jaunty bounce of “Don’t Fence Me In” and the ominous, ghost-populated song that lent the band its name. And they laced it all with a heaping helping of old-school vaudeville yuks, groan-inducing puns, rope tricks and just plain, old, undeniably corn-pone humor. Pointing to his green, cactus-shaped neckwear, Too Slim offered, “That’s my cac-tie!” And, really, where else are you likely to hear “Dueling Banjos” performed by two guys doing mouth percussion by slapping their cheeks?
But make no mistake, these guys can play. Woody Paul – inducted into the National Fiddlers Hall of Fame just two weeks before the concert – was the musical standout, firing up a hot-wired fiddle medley, as well as a delightful romp through the old war-horse, “Orange Blossom Special.” But the band’s “newcomer” Joey, also sparkled on accordion, especially when they cut him loose for a squeeze through the Les Paul nugget, “How High the Moon.”
They are unquestionably consummate all-around entertainers, but for the most part, their vocal harmonies were the Riders’ real musical strength. All four members repeatedly stepped up to the microphone as lead vocalists – the dazzling yodelling of Ranger Doug on “That’s How the Yodel Was Born” and Woody Paul’s sublime balladry on “The Arms of Love” were some of the highest of the high points – but the sensational, interwoven, four-part harmonies sounded as clean and clear as a rippling creek, especially on their final, unadorned encore of “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” when they stepped away from the microphones and let the exquisite acoustics of the Music Hall add to the musical magic.
Ah, that’s the cowboy way…
RIDERS IN THE SKY SET LIST
Back On Those Texas Plains
That’s How the Yodel Was Born
Fiddle medley (instrumental)
Don’t Fence Me In
The Land Beyond the Sun
Children’s song medley: Woody’s Round-up/Jessie, the Yodelin’ Cowgirl/You’ve Got a Friend in Me
Back in the Saddle Again
I’ve Cooked Everything
How High the Moon (instrumental)
The Arms of My Love
The King’s Highway
Yellow Rose of Texas
Here Comes the Santa Fe
Ridin’ Down the Canyon (When the Desert Sun Goes Down)
Riders in the Sky
Orange Blossom Special
Press Along to the Big Corral