Bar D Wranglers plan weekend concert in Farmington

Longtime cowboy music group going through rare change

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
The Bar D Wranglers perform Saturday night at the Bonnie Dallas Senior Center in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — No musical group that has survived for more than a couple of years is immune to personnel changes. Band members come and go, and the longer a group has been together, the more turnover it is likely to have experienced.

Even the Bar D Wranglers — the legendary and popular Durango, Colorado-based cowboy music outfit that will return Saturday night to Farmington — periodically sees one of its members move on. The group recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, and none of the original Wranglers remain.

That said, the band experiences lineup changes to such a rare degree that it's a big deal when it happens. That's what the Wranglers are going through now, with the recent departure of longtime fiddle player Matt Palmer and the planned addition of multi-instrumentalist John Moore as his replacement. Palmer had been with the group for 18 years, and his defection is the first roster change for the band since guitarist Richard Espinoza signed on eight years ago.

"We'll miss Matt, of course, but we're looking forward to having John in the group," guitarist, vocalist and bandleader Gary Cook said during a telephone interview Tuesday night from his Colorado home.

Cook enlisted with the Wranglers more than a quarter-century ago and made a career of it. His experience is more the rule than the exception among the Wranglers, as members tend to sign on for life, or at least an extended hitch of 15 to 20 years, creating the kind of stability and family-type atmosphere that makes a position in the band highly coveted.

"I was the new guy for 13 years before we had any turnover at all," Cook said of his career with the group.

Gary Cook has been with the Bar D Wranglers for more than 25 years, now serving as lead guitarist and band leader.

Cook said he heard from musicians from coast to coast inquiring about the opening when word got out that Palmer was stepping aside. But Cook knew almost immediately he wanted to bring in Moore to replace him.

The two have known each other since they first crossed paths at the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown many years ago. They hit it off immediately, and Cook said he had kept Moore in mind ever since then. Moore — who walks the Western lifestyle talk, having spent many years as a real-life cowboy at a ranch in Texas — had been spending much of the past several years traveling throughout Europe conducting horse clinics and playing music events, and was looking to spend more time with his family.

That, and his musical talent, made him the ideal candidate to join the Wranglers, Cook said. The group travels in the fall, winter and spring, but Cooks estimates that of the approximately 150 dates the Wranglers play each year, more than 90 percent of those are at the Bar D Chuckwagon headquarters in Durango, meaning the musicians spend the whole summer at home, sleeping in their own beds.

Finding someone who is a good fit in terms of personality is important, too, Cook said, noting the group performs each night for 100 days in the summer. That makes it imperative for the Wranglers to all like each other.

"You hope to have a guy and his family that people will want to spend time with," Cook said, explaining that when a new member signs on with the group, his family is basically signing on, too.

More:Bar D Wranglers will return to Civic Center

"It's a whole family unit," he said. "It seems like we're together an awful lot of the time. … It's not a situation where you'd want to dread going to work. We have a brutal schedule during the summer, and you have to gear up for that."

Cook said Moore will bring more of a bluegrass influence to the group, but, by and large, the Wranglers will remain the same group they always have been, delivering faithful renditions of Western and cowboy classics spiced up with plenty of humor.

But Moore won't be joining the group until it is midway through the Arizona tour it has planned after its Farmington gig. That means the Wranglers will be performing as a trio — Cook, Espinoza and bassist/singer Joel Racheff — during their appearance here.

That will provide local fans of the group with a different experience than what they may have grown used to. The Wranglers have performed a Christmas show at the Farmington Civic Center every year for the past several years, so the slimmed-down lineup and the set list that doesn't focus on holiday tunes will be a departure from that.

But Cook said the Wranglers aren't interested in messing with their successful formula. He recently had the chance to tour with Riders in the Sky while their regular bass player recovered from a hand injury. Cook said as much as he enjoyed that experience, it made him appreciate what he has with the Wranglers.

"As much as it's fun to be on the road, none of us would trade what we do," he said. "We love living in the Durango area, and it's definitely where we want to be. This is home, and we've got a lot of folks who really appreciate what we represent and what we have here."

The Bar D Wranglers take the stage at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Bonnie Dallas Senior Center, 109 E. La Plata St. in Farmington. Tickets are $10. Call 505-599-1380 or visit

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.