Riders in the Sky moseying to Durango

Friday, Aug. 17, 2018 4:02 PM
Western band Riders in the Sky will be at the Bar D Chuckwagon next week.
The Bar D Wranglers, from left, Matt Palmer, Richard Espinoza, Gary Cook and Joel Racheff, perform in June at the Bar D Chuckwagon. The Wranglers will be joined for two nights next week by Riders in the Sky.

For the past 40 years, there's not a lot members in the Western band Riders in the Sky haven't done.

They've won two Grammys.

They've played in front of a crowd of 18,000 at the Hollywood Bowl.

They killed it at Bonnaroo.

They're members of the Grand Ole Opry.

They've had their own television show.

They performed "Woody's Roundup" in the movie "Toy Story 2."

They've taken the stage at the Bar D Chuckwagon at least 20 times.

And they've maintained the same lineup for 30 years, their "newest" addition being Accordionist Joey, the CowPolka King.

"We were a trio for 10 years and then Joey joined us 30 years ago, so he's the new kid," said guitarist Ranger Doug. "We found him under a bridge with a sign that said: 'Will squeeze for food,' so we picked him up and added him in the show, so it's been the four of us for 30 years."

Along with Ranger Doug, who also sings lead and baritone vocals, and Accordionist Joey, who apprenticed with polka king Frank Yankovic, the band includes Too Slim - be sure to check out his furry chaps and cactus tie - on upright bass, and lead and tenor vocalist Woody Paul, who also plays fiddle and is a master of rope tricks.

The band still performs 60 to 70 dates a year on the road, and they play the Grand Ole Opry on the weekends they're not touring.

Arguably, Riders in the Sky has lasted longer than a lot of marriages, and there's a secret to their longevity, Ranger Doug said.

"The real secret is separate hotel rooms," he said. "You need your space if you're together 40 years, let me tell you."

Currently on their 40th anniversary tour, Riders in the Sky will be in Durango next week for a two-night gig at the Bar D, joining the Bar D Wranglers for comedy and music that celebrates the West.

Preserving Western music and carrying on the tradition are a priority for the band, along with putting on a good show, Ranger Doug said.

"We are in the business of entertainment, making people laugh and have fun, but we're also in the business of keeping this music alive and presenting it to the next generation so that this wonderful, uniquely American style of music can continue to live," he said. "It's a unique piece of Americana. What you would call maybe folk music in America is a great big pie and we're just one slice of it, but it's every bit as valid as zydeco or bluegrass or Delta blues of mountain music or any of the musical forms that have come out of this wonderful country of ours ."

And when the guys played the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in a two-hour Opry lineup this summer in Manchester, Tennessee, they joined Eminem, The Killers, Muse, Bon Iver and more.

"We found out the huge audience of mud-caked millennials knew the chorus to 'Ghost Riders,' which they sang along with at top volume," the band said on their website. "We found out they really liked songs from 'Toy Story 2,' which they were raised on. And they really, really, really liked Too Slim's 'Eminem rap.'"

For Ranger Doug, the positive reception from the audience at the festival wasn't much of a surprise.

"I think the music is so old-fashioned that it's new again, for one thing. For another, we clearly are having a great time on stage, and that's really communicated to the audience," he said. "I think young people today, there's so much manufactured electronic music out there that a certain percentage of them will just be delighted to find guys who are playing instruments without amps and without sound effects and tuners and every other darn thing in the world - just playing honest, straightforward music."

For a band that has been around for so long and has accomplished so much, a few events stand out for Ranger Doug.

"Of course, the Grammys are the highlights. I think playing at the Hollywood Bowl was my personal favorite show of all time that we've done - with 18,000 people out there, it still takes my breath away to think that we were there," he said. "Having a show on network TV was extremely cool, but it only lasted a year, unfortunately, but it's still a feather in the cap."

But the professional highlights are only a part of what Ranger Doug gets out of being a member of Riders in the Sky.

"I think getting to see the world, you know, selfishly, it's just fun to travel and see all these new places," he said. "I also feel like we had this mission to let people know this music exists, that it's not a museum piece, it's still thriving, it's still very creative. Of course, we love to play in the West the most because with people out there, you really don't have to explain it to them, they just get it."

The guys will be at the Bar D on Wednesday and Thursday next week, for what will be about their 20th time performing there, Ranger Doug said, adding that for those who have never seen them perform, they are in for a treat.

"It's an eclectic mixture: There'll be some serious songs. Of course, we'll do songs from our 40th anniversary album that just came out," he said. "There's a lot of comedy, and, of course, the Bar D Wranglers are masters of comedy themselves, so it's really going to be a fun night for people."

As for carrying on the Western music legacy, Ranger Doug said there's one man who deserves to be recognized - and he's someone we know.

"We think that if they do another Mount Rushmore, Cy Scarborough should be up there," he said "He's a national treasure and should be preserved."

If you go

What: Riders In the Sky.

When: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.

Where: Bar D Chuckwagon, 8080 County Road 250.

Tickets: $12-$38, make reservations at

More information: Visit or call 247-5753.