Why the Cowboy Sings is an hour-long documentary that explores the inspiration behind the music and poetry that accompany ranch life. A cowboy’s job has always been low paying, dangerous, lonely, dusty and gory. One would think this wouldn’t be much to sing about, yet sing the cowboy does.
This Western Folklife Center film is a journey to four remote ranches in the middle of winter, the season when cowboys have time to compose and sing music. We meet Larry and Toni Schutte who ranch on northern Nevada’s sagebrush ocean. Their songs reverberate with faith and spirituality. At 75, Glenn Ohrlin still ranched in the hills of Arkansas and was considered by many to be the greatest traditional cowboy singer alive (he passed away in 2015). Henry Real Bird is a Crow Indian who says that being a cowboy is as close to being an Indian as you can get. Stephanie Davis comes from a ranching family who lost their land in the 1940s. For years she struggled as a songwriter in Nashville, until a song about a lost ranch turned into a hit and allowed her to buy back the life she had longed for since childhood.
Watch Why the Cowboy Sings on YouTube.
Our film was produced in collaboration with KUED-Channel 7 in Salt Lake City, and was featured as part of the Olympic Arts Festival for the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games.
A 16-minute high definition adaptation of Why the Cowboy Sings is shown on-demand every day at the Western Folklife Center’s Black Box Theater at our Elko headquarters.
Why the Cowboy Sings on DVD and a Deep West Recordings companion CD, Songs from Why the Cowboy Sings, are available in the Western Folklife Center Gift Shop.
Why the Cowboy Sings was made possible by the generous support of the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, the R. Harold Burton Foundation, the Dick Burton Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, E.L. Wiegand Foundation, Wes and Sue Dixon, and Anne Pattee.