Riders In the Sky's face-play stand-off
It was show No. 7239 for Riders In the Sky at City Winery Monday night in the legendary cowboy country music quartet’s continuing saga of “keeping alive the classic sound of the American West,” as lead singer/guitarist “Ranger Doug” Green said at the outset of a show that also appended to “40 years of the Cowboy Way.”
Sure enough, the venerable group’s 40 Years The Cowboy Way anniversary album comes out next month and includes songs played at the Winery including “Mollie Darling,” an old song dating back to the 1870s, and “Cimarron.” But there were plenty of old Riders favorites, too, like the much-recorded pop/cowboy standard “Wahoo,” in which bass fiddler Fred “Too Slim” LaBour, after Ranger Doug asked him to play “that beautiful antique bass of yours,” slapped out the tune on his open-mouth face, claiming to have mistaken Ranger for saying “beautiful antique face.”
This only prompted Woody “King of the Country Fiddlers” Paul to challenge Slim in an amazing “Dueling Banjos” face-off, and he put up a good fight until Slim took off his hat and knuckled the tune on his bald pate. But both Ranger Doug and accordionist Joey “The Cowpolka King” Miskulin also got in the act, one-handing their instruments while slapping their cheeks with the other.
On “Blue Shadows on the Trail” from their 2015 Riders In the Sky Salute Roy Rogers: King of the Cowboys album, the City Winery crowd hooted and howled along unsolicited to the point where Ranger Doug observed that “it sounds like mating season out there.” And Too Slim, in the guise of his crusty old trail cook character Side Meat, regaled with his tasty “I’ve Cooked Everything” parody of the country standard “I’ve Been Everywhere,” also from the new album.
Not to be outdone, The Cowpolka King, who will be showcased as a “Nashville Cat” next month by the Country Music Hall of Fame in recognition of his extraordinary instrumental virtuosity, led the rest in a rousing “Sweet Georgia Brown.”
Ranger Doug’s call for requests was met with an avalanche, so the Riders sang a dozen or so simultaneously before somehow settling into “Surfin’ USA.” Following their traditional closer “Happy Trials” (also Roy Rogers, and with Ranger Doug’s benediction “May the horse be with you” including “you, too, Mr. Science Guy,” since self-proclaimed Riders groupie Bill Nye was in the house), and the unamplified encore “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” they regrouped in the back at the well-stocked “mercantile,” where among the sundry Riders In the Sky items were new album t-shirts--as Ranger Doug had noted, “the humane alternative to branding.”