Featured image for “The Night of the Cowboy”

The Night of the Cowboy

February 22, 2013

cool waters promo picThis past weekend, the Arts Center hosted a local musical group called Cool Waters, a trio of men who celebrate the life and culture of the American cowboy through traditional cowboy music. I’m young enough that most of the names they mentioned as stylistic influences—Bob Nolan, Sons of the Pioneers, Sons of the San Joaquin, and Gene Autry—rang hollow in my ears. Nonetheless, I was enthusiastic about their performance (what better place to have cowboy singers than in our completely built-out frontier town?), and I hoped the community would be, too.

The night of the concert, I noticed that attendance was not as high as we had hoped. Only about 45 people showed up, and I knew that at least 60 people had to attend for us to cover the cost of the performance. As the lights dimmed and the band introduced themselves, I watched from the shadows with a sinking feeling in my chest. As Marketing Director, I often feel directly responsible for low turnouts at special events—after all, I’m the one making sure people know what’s going on at the Arts Center!

audienceAs Cool Waters sang, joked, and even yodeled, I watched the audience carefully. It was mostly an older crowd, and they weren’t giving much away. Were they enjoying this? My boyfriend and his grandma were in the audience, but I couldn’t tell much from the backs of their heads. His grandma grew up with the Sons of the Pioneers and I knew as soon as we booked Cool Waters that she should come see them. At her age, she doesn’t go out much, but I knew it would be worth it. Now, watching the band get into full-swing, I wondered if I had miscalculated.

Halfway through the show, I got called up front to participate in a song about a cowboy and his damsel in distress. My role was to switch Darrel’s headwear from a cowboy hat to a bonnet as a way of switching his characters between the cowboy and the damsel. switching hatsThey tried their best to outwit me, but I kept up with them! As I walked off stage, I decided to squeeze in next to my boyfriend’s grandma and find out if she was really enjoying the performance. It was just then that Cool Waters invited the audience to join them in singing “Home on the Range.” To my surprise, I heard grandma’s voice next to me, clear and strong, singing every word.

I joined in with her, smiling despite how cheesy I thought the sing-along was. Grandma sang every word to “Cool Waters” and “Happy Trails,” too. My boyfriend and I exchanged a look over her head—neither of us had ever heard her sing, and her memory had been faltering lately, yet here she was singing every word perfectly. As “Happy Trails” drew to a close, I saw her wipe a tear from one eye.

performingSure, Cool Waters didn’t draw a record crowd or make us at the Arts Center rich. But they did something much more important—they took people of a certain generation (including my boyfriend’s grandma) back to a happier, simpler, more familiar time. It was a realization both heartwarming and bittersweet—after all, the era of the cowboy has faded almost beyond recognition, and the days of Buck Rogers and John Wayne are long gone. But for that night, in that space, it came back to life, and it reached out to people in our community who most needed it.