Hats off to The McCallum Theatre – Cowboy Hats that is – for presenting the incredible vocal quartet "Ryders In The Sky" in concert as part of their stellar 25th anniversary season. It is always a treat to go into the theatre with no expectations – I had never before seen "Ryders In The Sky" and, since cowboy music is not my thing, never really expected I would. But what a joyful surprise! It turned out to be one of the most entertaining afternoons I have spent in the theatre in years. For a solid ninety minutes I couldn't get enough of their spot on vocal harmonies or their infectious humor. In fact, to my surprise, I even bought a CD in the lobby on my way out.
The "Ryders In The Sky" are celebrating their 35th anniversary in show business after making a comeback when Disney hired them to lay down vocals for their animated hit "Toy Story 2", for which they were awarded one of several Grammy Awards. The group is comprised of Ranger Doug on Guitar, Woody Paul on Fiddle (who was just inducted into the National Fiddlers Hall Of Fame), Too Slim on Stand-Up Bass and Joey The Cowpolka King on Accordian. "You've got to love a town with a street named after Gene Autry" (referring to Palm Springs) quipped Ranger Doug as the super-talented foursome launched into song after song after song, from "Back In The Saddle" to "Cool Water" to "Rawhide" – songs I never would have entertained as particularly musical until I was introduced to the "Ryders" treatment. Their comraderie is a joy to behold. They play with each other and play off each other expertly and even though the punch lines are extremely well rehearsed, they come off as fresh and spontaneous – the mark of professionals!
Each musician is a virtuoso and they compliment each other with perfection. Few performers could hold a solid ninety minutes so well -- just standing downstage on microphones with no staging, no special effects and no costume changes. (In fact, the only scenic elements were three 1950'style western movie posters displaying caricatures of "The Ryders" along with some clever slogans hanging, simply, above their heads.) And yet, they hold the audience in the palm of their hands from beginning to end with their eaSy Manner and their layed-back humor. It takes true artistry to just stand in one place and sing!! Their show is reminiscent of "A Prariie Home Companion", but better. Highlights were a wonderful rendition of "How High The Moon", a medley from "Toy Story" and "The Mystery Of His Way" from their new inspirational CD.
The sound mix was pitch perfect – the balance and the clarity of each instrument and each singer was a pleasure for the ears. The lighting was almost non-existent; a few colors washes but nothing more was necessary. "Ryders In The Sky" are billed as "America's Favorite Cowboys" and it is easy to see why. They are genuinely engaging and a musical treasure and the cheers from the sell-out crowd told he whole story. For more information on The McCallum's 25th Anniversary Season visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.