Bar D Wranglers celebrate Christmas at Civic Center
FARMINGTON — When Gary Cook became a member of the Bar D Wranglers in 1989, he was joining a group that already had been around for 20 years. Despite his status as the Wranglers’ “rookie,” as he called himself then, Cook quickly realized it was a gig he could get used to.
“It looked like something you could built a career out of,” he said.
That’s exactly what Cook, a guitarist and vocalist, has done over the more than 25 years that have unfolded since he became a Wrangler. He’s stuck around long enough so that he now serves as the foursome’s senior member and band leader, carrying on the tradition started by founder Cy Scarborough.
Though he recently celebrated his 90th birthday, Scarborough still frequently performs with the band, which delivers its annual Christmas jubilee this weekend at the Farmington Civic Center. Cook said the band has been celebrating Christmas at the Civic Center for a dozen years or so, and this show kicks off the group’s series of holiday performances.
While the format remains the same each year – the Wranglers perform a selection of holiday favorites in a Western music style while injecting plenty of humor — Cook said the band makes an effort to alter the set list each year, giving fans an opportunity to lobby for their favorites via the Internet.
“We’ve got several new ones this year,” Cook said, explaining that a fan in northern Colorado alerted the group to a little-known Christmas gem called “Santa Never Brings Me a Banjo” that the Wranglers will be performing this season. The most popular segment of the show, which typically runs from 75 to 80 minutes, is a Christmas medley that features eight or nine tunes, he said.
The Wranglers will be performing 11 Christmas concerts this year on a tour that will take the band to such locales as Albuquerque; Blanding, Utah, and several shows in their home state of Colorado. Though the Wranglers have cast an increasingly wide net in recent years in terms of their touring footprint — the group regularly does an extended tour of Arizona and in 2008 even performed at a U.S. Naval base in Atsugi, Japan — one of the main advantages to playing in the group, Cook said, is the fact that, for 90 percent of its 150 shows each year, the members get to go home at night and see their family and sleep in their own bed.
That’s because most of the band’s performances come between Memorial Day and Labor Day when it takes the stage every night at the Bar D Chuckwagon outdoor restaurant north of Durango, Colo. That’s more than 100 straight nights of performances, a grind that is likely to wear down even the most enthusiastic musician.
Even so, Cook said he has never gotten tired of being a Wrangler
“No, I couldn’t say that I have,” he said. “All of us, by the end of August, of course, we’re ready for a day off. But we’ve always found something different to say. Once we get onstage each night, it’s as fun now, maybe more fun, than when I started.”
It’s the best of both worlds, he figures. Cook and the other Wranglers get to play music they love each night for an appreciative and diverse audience, all while enjoying the comforts and stability of home. It’s not unusual, he noted, for fans to line up in the morning outside the Bar D box office, which doesn’t open until 5:30 p.m. each day, just so they can be sure to get the seats the want for that evening’s performance.
It’s the timeless appeal of cowboy music that makes the Bar D Chuckwagon such a popular attraction, Cook said.
“Cowboy songs are the type of music people come here to hear,” he said. “We get to be part of somebody’s vacation. This isn’t something you’ll hear, if you’re from South Carolina, on a regular basis. I’ve been told we have a fun show, and I think the quality speaks for itself. When they arrive, they may not be fans of cowboy music, but when they leave, they always have smiles on their faces.”
That includes a lot of foreign visitors, he said, explaining that one night at the chuckwagon, visitors from 26 countries outside the United States were represented. Cook hopes those visitors carry lingering members of what they heard with them.
“They take our stuff back with them, and it continues on,” he said. “We hope it does for a long time to come.”
Other members of the band have embraced the Wranglers lifestyle just as Cook has. Fiddler and singer Matt Palmer has been with the group for 16 years, bassist and singer Joel Racheff has been around for 10 years, and lead singer and rhythm guitarist Richard Espinoza is the shortest-tenured member of the group at six years.
When a change to the lineup does come, Cook said he places just as much value on personality as he does musicianship when it comes to picking a replacement. Performers need to have a good feel for comedy, and a love for singing multiple-part harmonies is a must. So is the ability to get along well with the other members.
“It’s worked out really well,” Cook said. “The guys have the best attitudes. Everyone loves what we do. We’ve all been somewhere where we wish we were doing something like we are now. It’s a good dynamic. My job is picking the right people, and we learn as we grow as a group. I’m really proud of the guys.”
The band is asking its local fans to bring some sort of donation with them to the show at the Civic Center for Childhaven Inc., a local nonprofit organization that serves abused, neglected and traumatized children in the area.
“Maybe a blanket, a hat or a coat,” Cook said. “We hope we can encourage people to donate to them to make Christmas a little better.”
Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.
If you go
What: The Bar D Wranglers’ Christmas Jubilee
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2
Where: Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St.
Tickets: $17 for adults, $9 for children 12 and younger at fmtn.org
For more information: Call 505-599-1148 or visit bardwranglers.com