Night of old-school cowboy songs in Palo Duro Canyon on tap from Flying J Wranglers and 'Texas' producers
By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
An old-fashioned celebration of Western music will kick off the season in Pioneer Amphitheatre at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.
The Flying J Wranglers, who perform regularly on their ranch in Ruidoso, N.M., will give an 8 p.m. May 20 concert in the amphitheater, a couple of weeks before the outdoor musical Texas opens for its 52nd season.
"I'm trying to find songs about canyons," head Wrangler James Hobbs said.
Joking aside, Hobbs said the Wranglers' music is a natural fit for the venue.
"A lot of these songs are about that — 'Riding Down the Canyon,' 'Tumbling Tumbleweeds,' 'Cool Water'," Hobbs said.
Those songs of the iconic singing cowboy embodied by Gene Autry and Roy Rogers have been the Wranglers' bread and butter since the ranch opened in 1982.
"Our mission was to provide a good, family and Western-style experience through our property, our food and our music, to honor the tradition of the American West and the cowboy, and to bring out the kid in everybody," Hobbs said.
The Wranglers provide music for a chuckwagon dinner and performance six nights a week between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with yodeling, fiddling, banjo picking and more.
"They sing a lot of old-time songs, and I think it's going to look terrific in the canyon," said Dave Yirak, new executive director of Texas Panhandle Heritage Foundation and longtime artistic director of Texas. "It's a very family-based type of entertainment."
The Wranglers have developed a following in the area over the past decade with Christmas performances at Amarillo Little Theatre, and both Hobbs and Yirak praised ALT Executive Director Allen Shankles for OK'ing the May 20 show.
Hobbs and Yirak's connection dates back to the early 1970s, when they were friends and roommates at Lubbock Christian University.
"I wish you could have seen him. Dave did a melodrama in Lubbock — he played the bad guy — and there has never been a better bad guy than Dave Yirak," Hobbs said.
Yirak later asked Hobbs to pen a new song for Texas — the mournful yet hopeful ballad "West Texas Rain" — following the deaths of five company members in a 2013 car accident.
"When he wrote the song for us, it really had an effect on us," Yirak said. "I don't think you ever heal after something like that, but it helped us get through it."
The Wranglers' appearance could signal the start of more entertainment offerings in the amphitheater besides Texas, Yirak said.
TPHF is looking for area praise and worship bands to join a free concert set for Sept. 9.
"We're hoping to open it up and offer it as a venue for touring groups," Yirak said. "I think it's a natural fit for people and a beautiful venue with the canyon wall. We're hoping we can utilize the theater a little more out there ... for a few more weeks out of the year before the weather shuts us down."
Tickets are $25. Call 806-655-2181.