Why the Cowboy Sings

Why the Cowboy Sings is an hour-long documentary that explores the inspiration behind the poetry and music that accompany ranch life.

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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, when the Wiegand Gallery is open, at our Elko headquarters.

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 2002 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.

In this film, we meet Larry and Toni Schutte who ranch on northern Nevada’s sagebrush ocean. Their songs reverberate with faith and spirituality. Filmed at 75, Glenn Ohrlin ranched in the hills of Arkansas and was considered by many to be the greatest traditional cowboy singer alive. 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. 

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. It is no longer in print.

You can purchase the companion CD, Songs from Why the Cowboy Sings, in the Western Folklife Center Gift Shop. Call 775-738-7508x234 to order.

Funders for this 2002 project were:

Why the Cowboy Sings was also made possible by the generous support of the Dick Burton Foundation,  Wes and Sue Dixon, and Anne Pattee.

Why the Cowboy Sings was produced by Hal Cannon and Taki Telonidis. 

Banner image: Jessica Brandi Lifland; all other Images courtesy of Doug Monroe, Director of Photography, Why the Cowboy Sings.