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Riders in the sky

Margaret Melloy GuziakRay Guziak with friend Joey Miskulin of Nashville, Tenn.

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Roadmap in hand, we headed out on a Friday morning from Grand Junction, Colo., to Heber City, Utah for two days. We’d made motel reservations and had tickets for the evening’s Riders in the Sky performance at the 15th Annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Buckaroo Fair. We’d never been to Heber City before and didn’t know what to expect. Joey Miskulin, (Cowpolka Joe), one of the “Riders in the Sky,” is a personal friend of Ray’s and we were anxious to see and hear them again. Besides, how can you not look forward to a couple days of delightful cowboy poetry and old time country music in beautiful Utah?

The 4-day event was supported by the entire town’s lively participation, including 250 volunteer workers. They were anticipating a crowd of 15,000 to 20,000 people at this event which vies with Elko, Nev., for the title of #1 Cowboy Poetry Gathering in the West. Joining the multitude of cars driving down their banner-filled Main Street, we headed over to their new, expansive Wasatch High School, whose 1,000 seat auditorium exceeded all our expectations as a site for the Gathering.

After driving through the overflowing, various parking lots, we finally found a spot, parked and hurried into the high school, clutching our tickets. We were warmly greeted and directed to the theater auditorium. After everyone was seated, a 15-minute auction began of numerous donated items. The auctioneer on stage was supported by committee members roaming the aisles, identifying the winning bidders among the audience. When they’d raised over $600, the crowd applauded. And the show began.

Waddie Mitchell, renowned cowboy poet, took center stage welcoming the audience. He is the co-founder of Elko, Nevada’s Cowboy Poetry Gathering and has hosted this event for years. Dave Stamley, cowboy poet and guitarist was next. The magazine, Cowboys and Indians named Stamley “the Charley Russell of western music.” Jess Howard, former rodeo champ and cowboy poet followed them.

When they’d finished performing, the headliner, Riders in the Sky, came onstage while the anticipating, appreciative audience clapped and cheered when they sang an old Sons of the Pioneers song, “Cool, Clear Water.” Gene Autry and Roy Rogers tunes like “Tumblin’ Tumbleweed,” “Rawhide,” “Ghost Riders in the Sky”and such were next. This internationally known band started their four-man, singing group in November 1977. Since then, they have performed before Presidents and for our servicemen and women. At their Sheridan, Wyo., concert, which followed their recent Utah concerts, they’d racked up 5,832 performances.

Ranger Doug yodels and plays guitar while Too Slim plays bass and his face in a comedy routine. Woody Paul fiddles and Cowpolka Joe, the last one to join the group, plays accordion and produces and directs them from their Nashville location. Each has his own talents but joined together, they are an amazing singing group. In 1982, they were inducted into The Grand Old Opry. Winners of two Grammy awards, they sang in the movies, “Toy Story I” and “Toy Story II.” Billboard magazine wrote, “They are one of the most historically significant acts in the history of American music.”

After the show, we walked to the lobby where the “Riders” were seated at a table, greeting their fans, signing their CDs and souvenirs, and shaking hands. We chatted with our friend Joey and he graciously agreed to have his picture taken with us.

Joey started playing accordion at five years old. Later, he played as a young star with Roman Possedi’s Chicago band and then apprenticed with the late Polka King, Frank Yankovic of Cleveland, traveling with Frank for many years. Roman, who’s retired and living in Las Vegas, recently celebrated his 80th birthday. He and Joey still stay in touch via visits and email.

Saturday morning, after a delicious, cowboy breakfast at the crowded Hub Restaurant where we watched three balloons lift off a few blocks over, we drove back to the high school to attend the Buckaroo Fair. What a pleasure! Inside, a slew of vendors displayed their excellent western-style wares, pictures, jewelry, clothing and art in the long and wide lobby, down the halls and everywhere you looked.

A tall, handsome, cowboy artist, Kelly Donovan, stood next to his work near the door. His single bronze and western paintings absolutely blew us away, and we told him so.

“Bet your things are in Jackson Hole, Wyo. They are the best I have ever seen,” I praised.

“Yep, they are. Thanks. And in Cody, Wyo., galleries also,” he answered, smiling.

Driving away, we hated to leave this charming, hospitable Heber Valley town which had its first permanent settlement 150 years ago. Their history says that “after the first cabin was built, they built a larger one that was used for a school, a church and social hall where potlucks and parties were held.”

But, we WILL be back! Remember folks. This is an Annual Event. When you get your 2010 calendar, circle that first week in November and watch for the actual dates of the 16th Annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Buckaroo Fair. We’ll be doing the same.


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