Special to The Leader
Orange Lions Club
Saddle up and ride to the Lutcher Theater at 3 p.m. this Sunday to experience the “Comedy and Western” of the classic cowboy quartet, Riders in the Sky. Tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for students and can be purchased at www.lutcher.org or by calling the Lutcher Theater box office at 409-886-5535.
For more than thirty years Riders in the Sky have been keepers of the flame passed on by the Sons of the Pioneers, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, reviving and revitalizing the Western music. And while remaining true to the integrity of the genre, they have themselves become modern-day icons by branding the genre with their own legendary wacky humor and way-out Western wit, and all along encouraging buckaroos and buckarettes to live life “The Cowboy Way!”
As a classic cowboy quartet, the trail has led them to heights they could have never predicted. Riders have chalked up over 6,100 concert appearances in all 50 states and 10 countries, appearing in venues everywhere from the Nashville National Guard Armory to Carnegie Hall, and from county fairs to the Hollywood Bowl.
Their cowboy charisma and comedic flair made them naturals for TV, and landed them their own weekly show on TNN, as well as a Saturday morning series on CBS. They have been guests on countless TV specials, documentaries and variety shows, appearing with everyone from Barney to Penn & Teller. And their animated likenesses have shared the screen with Daffy Duck on the Cartoon Network, and the Disney Channel’s Stanley.
If you consider their compositional credits, one might call them “Writers In The Sky!” In addition to penning award winning songs for their own albums, they wrote the score for Pixar Animation’s 2002 Academy Award-winning short For the Birds. They composed the theme song for the Internet cartoon show Thomas Timberwolf by renowned Bugs Bunny creator Chuck Jones. But the animated character that history will most certainly link to Riders in the Sky is the loveable cowboy Woody, as Riders performed “Woody’s Round Up” in Toy Story 2, with the album of the same name garnering Riders their first Grammy Award in 2001 for “Best Musical Album for Children.” Two years later, Riders roped their second Grammy in the same category, for Monsters Inc. - Scream Factory Favorites, the companion CD to Pixar’s award winning movie.
Equally as exceptional, but of greater significance, is that in 1982, Riders in the Sky became the first, and to date only, exclusively Western music artist to join the Grand Ol’ Opry, the longest running radio show in history, and thus began a love affair with radio as well.
In 1988, they recorded comedy skits for the album “Riders Radio Theatre” and launched the long-running international weekly radio show of the same name on public radio. And keeping pace with the ever-changing technological landscape, in 2006 “Ranger Doug’s Classic Cowboy Corral” debuted on XM Satellite Radio, still heard weekly on SiriusXM Channel 56.
Riders have performed at the White House for both Democratic and Republican administrations, and at Major League Baseball’s winter meetings for both American and National Leagues (although with an admitted bias for the Detroit Tigers). With their ability to persuade cowpokes on both sides of the fence to set aside their differences for a brief escape from day-to-day tribulations, is it any wonder that Riders have a virtual home called “Harmony Ranch?”
In addition to being inducted into the Grand Ol’ Opry, Riders are in the Western Music Association’s Hall of Fame, the Country Music Foundation’s Walkway of Stars, and the Walk of Western Stars (in Newhall, Calif. near Melody Ranch Studios) along with Gene, Roy, John Wayne and other cowboy legends.
No less important than their two Grammies, Riders have been the Western Music Association’s “Entertainers Of the Year” seven times, and won “Traditional Group of the Year” and “Traditional Album of the Year” multiple times. The Academy of Western Artists has named them “Western Music Group of the Year” twice in 5 years, and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum has bestowed Riders with their Wrangler Award statuette three times. It comes as no surprise then that Billboard magazine’s Jim Bessman counts them as one of “the most historically significant acts in the history of American music.”
Yes, it would be “The Easy Way” to call it a career after 30-plus years, but it wouldn’t be... “The Cowboy Way!” And so, the never-ending trail drive continues. The ponies are rested and watered, and America’s Favorite Cowboys are ready to saddle up and ride, bringing good beef to hungry people wherever they may be. Yes, Riders in the Sky is truly an exception to the rule.