Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Cowboy Supper Show" review at the Rockin' B Ranch

City Sicker

Had a friend over the other night. A New York friend. Wanted to see some theater, and how could I seriously consider attending something called a "Cowboy Supper Show," performed in a place that's practically in Idaho and in a barn?!
"It's like Frontierland — you know, at Disneyland," I said. The Rockin' B barn itself, I pointed out, was part of the fun — big and drafty, even on a hot night, and with a waterfall at one end. Lemonade comes down wooden chutes out of the rafters. Ice scoops dangle from little teeter-totters weighed down by horseshoes. In the washroom, water both cold and hot runs down chain-pull spouts into a washbucket. Over in the cantina (which serves beer and wine on weekend nights), a sign kindly asks patrons not to spit in the tip jar.
My Effete Friend from New York smirked. "Well, in New York, the way we always ..."
I made EFNY put another dollar in the kitty. I wasn't going to let him go on all night about city-slicker ways.
"These people are dressed like tourists," EFNY sniffed, gazing at the crowd.
"It's 90 degrees outside," I said. True, there were Bermuda shorts in evidence. Kids ran through the aisles with lemonade glasses. A lot of dads were wearing cowboy hats. "They're here to have a good time."
And there's something about sitting mess-hall style on benches that encourages conversation. EFNY and I were even sitting across from a couple celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary.

After the preliminaries, with pre-show fiddlin' provided by the Panhandle Polecats out of Rathdrum, we scooted over to outdoor bleachers for "an authentic, true-to-life, fake Western shootout."
Cow-town caricatures and clowns traded lame jokes: "I'm a fallen woman." "How far did you fall?" "Don't ask that — that's impermanent."
EFNY heckled the actors. But the pre-show, with its Bernie Madoff allusions aimed at the black-hat villain who's trying to take over the town, its self-mocking, super slo-mo gun battle and "bullets" splashing horse-trough water all over the front row of little kids, at least was making an attempt to rise above the hokey.
Then it was time to wait our turn in the chow line, which made a final scurry right through the waterfall's mist. We held out our tin plates for enormous helpings of beef, chicken and barbecue ribs along with a baked potato, pinto beans, apple sauce, spice cake and more.
EFNY denounced the chicken as processed-dry and the beef overcooked — but I noticed that he cleaned his plate, just like everyone around us.

Then it was time for the Riders of the Rockin' B to take the stage alongside the tumbleweeds, cow skulls and covered wagon. The quartet opened with a lonesome-cowboy song ("My Rifle, My Pony and Me"), then clapped through a square dance, yodel-ay-hee-hoo'ed for the Old West and made clear that they were "here to celebrate the cowboy way of life." JayDean Ludiker gathered a gaggle of kids around her and made her fiddle sound like various birds — a "bobwhite, whippoorwill, robin" — and, on the screechy notes, "a robin with epilepsy."
By the time Tim Behrens previewed a bit of his comic Pat McManus monologues, with Old Ed starting to snore at the campfire and ... and ... finally finishing his snore, even EFNY was laughing aloud and joining in the fun.

After the show, I asked our host, Scott Brownlee, to distinguish two kinds of music. "Country music," he said, "is when you have one guy singing about his girlfriend." (He lost the pickup and his dog, too.) But Western music, he said — the kind that he and the other Riders had just performed — "is when a group of people sing in four-part harmony about how they feel about home."
Snobs will scoff. But sitting in a big ol' barn with 300 other folks, licking barbecue sauce off your fingers and listening to the lonesome wail of four overlapping voices — that feels like part of home. Even my Upper East Side friend, I noticed, had been tappin’ his toes. 

Cowboy Supper Shows on Thursdays-Saturdays through Sept. 26 at the Rockin' B Ranch, just south of Exit 299 at Stateline, Wash., with musical pre-show at 5:30 pm, "shoot-out" at 6:30 pm, dinner at 7 pm and concert at 8 pm. Tickets: $29; $10, children (ages 3-10). Jazz nights every other Wednesday (July 29-Sept. 23) at 7 pm. Tickets: $8. Visit or call 891-9016 or (888) ROCKIN-B.

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