My ceiling the sky, my carpet the grass,
My music the lowing of herds as they pass;
My books are the brooks, my sermons the stones,
My parson's a wolf on a pulpit
--The Cowboy Soliloquy, Alan McCanless
Sure, we know about singing cowboys like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry but do real cowboys actually sing? After all, the real work is full of danger. It's lonely out there. And besides it's dusty, gory and low paying. So why would this single occupation inspire one of the few truly American musical traditions? "Why the Cowboy Sings" is a journey across the open West to find men and women on ranches who still hold on to the ancient life of horses, beef, freedom and good songs.
Hal Cannon hosts the program and has been chasing the question of why cowboys sing for 30 years. He is a Founding Director of the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, which arguably has spawned a grass routes arts movement in America. He has played cowboy music in a traditional band since the early 1970s. In this journey he travels to four ranches, in the middle of winter, to visit cowboys during a season when things slow down and songs come out around the hearth.
Larry and Toni Schutte live on a remote ranch on Nevada's sagebrush ocean. Their songs reverberate with faith and spirituality. Glenn Ohrlin ranches in the hills of Arkansas, and is thought to be the greatest traditional cowboy singer alive. Henry Real Bird is a Crow Indian cowboy who says that today's cowboys are being squeezed out just as Indians were in the last centuries. Songwriter Stephanie Davis left Nashville and is now confronting the dichotomy of a rancher who used the popular cowboy myth to buy back the authentic life.
"Most people in our dizzying modern lives have precious little to sing about. The cowboy does, and with such passion that maybe it's a life worth examining. Not for the hackneyed and cliched, but for what is real and authentic," says Cannon. "On the journey, we meet true cowboys and hear their songs and stories. In the end we discover American values that have been drowned out by modern urban life."
"Why the Cowboy Sings" was produced by Hal Cannon and Taki Telonidis for the Western Folklife Center. Doug Monroe was director of photography; Bill Lauer, editor; William Montoya, sound mix; Scott Chaffin, John Howe and Elizabeth Searles, executive producers for KUED, Salt Lake City, Utah.
"Why the Cowboy Sings" went beyond the TV screen and was a signature event of the 2002 Cultural Olympiad. A concert by the same title was hosted by cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell and included performances by the four cowboys featured in the documentary, as well as Texas poet Joel Nelson and Navajo cowboy humorist Vincent Craig. It was received by a near sell-out audience of 2000 to a standing ovation.
"Why the Cowboy Sings," a Western Folklife Center film produced in conjunction with KUED-7, was funded by the George S. and Delores Doré Eccles Foundation, the R. Harold Burton Foundation, the Dick Burton Foundation, Anne Pattee, and Wes and Sue Dixon.
Press Contact: Hal Cannon, 801-582-9576 (firstname.lastname@example.org)