TORRINGTON – Wyoming’s own Bar J Wranglers wrangled some laughs and applause at Eastern Wyoming College Sunday Oct. 24 in one of their last performances together.
As the lights dimmed, the audience’s eager anticipation rose. EWC Director of Institutional Development John Hansen took the stage to introduce and welcome the band. While admission to the event was free, Hansen reminded and thanked audience members for their generous donations to provide scholarships for agriculture students at EWC.
Hansen turned the stage over to “Wyoming’s favorite sons” as the audience applauded and cheered. Scott Humphrey, band leader and high tenor, thanked the audience for its warm welcome. His brother Bryan thanked the audience for giving up Sunday afternoon football to come see the concert.
“I’m headin’ for the last roundup,” the band sang, lights low until Bryan Humphrey began to yodel.
The audience cheered and clapped along. Donnie Cook, the “musician’s musician” and multi-instrumentalist in the band, leaned back in his chair with his guitar like Sheriff Andy Taylor sitting on the porch on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Tim Hodgson, who has been with the band for 33 years, showed off his skills that won him the titles of four-time Idaho State Champion Fiddler, two-time U.S. Open Fiddler and two-time National Men’s Champion Fiddler.
“Yodeling is a lot like indigestion. Sometimes you just gotta let one fly,” Bryan said after the song.
Known for their humor as well as their music, the Bar J Wranglers work together on stage to provide the best entertainment they can for their audience. Bryan offered up his skills as a race caller in a horse race summarizing the COVID-19 pandemic featuring horses named “Coronavirus,” “Dr. Fauci,” “Toilet Paper,” “Hydroxychloroquine” and “Social Distancing” among several others. At another point in the show, Bryan left the stage to go find his granny, only to show up on stage a moment later dressed in a wig, glasses and a silky pink moomoo to tell Granny’s version of Cinderella.
Alex Ryan and Savana Maestas drove all the way from Loveland, Colorado to see the show. They had seen the group perform at the Bar J Chuckwagon, the band’s business in Jackson Hole where they have put on shows and served dinner every night every summer for the last 44 years.
“I went to see them in Jackson Hole all the time when I was a kid, so it’s just a good family memory, so I just wanted to see them since it’s their last year,” Maestas said.
Maestas and Ryan both noted their favorite part of the show was hearing bass Danny Rogers sing.
Rogers has been with the band for 15 “amazing” years and was born and raised in Chugwater. His time with the band started on a note so high it reached the White House.
After picking Rogers up in Cheyenne, the band headed for the East Coast, where it had shows lined up for wounded troops at Walter Reed Medical Center, a birthday party and other shows. A man in Washington D.C. had hired the band for his wife’s birthday, who then turned around and helped them land shows at other events in the surrounding communities. One thing led to another and the woman used her connections with First Lady Laura Bush to get the group a private tour of the White House.
“We got about two thirds of the way through the White House tour and one of these guys from the Secret Service, you know, with the little earpiece and the curly wire hanging there comes up and asks, ‘Are you guys the Bar J Wranglers?’” Rogers said.
The agent asked them to follow him and guided them outside. A Marine in full uniform opened a door for them and the Secret Service agent invited them to wait inside.
“We had no idea where we even were,” Scott Humphrey said. “But that door opened and we stood up and it’s the President and Vice President.”
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney grew up in Casper and was thrilled to introduce the President to some of his fellow Wyomingites. The President showed them around the Oval Office, but soon recognized they had little interest in that, so they chatted about their hometowns and things they had in common. Next thing they knew, 25 minutes had passed in what was supposed to be an eight minute tour of the Oval Office.
“We walked out of there and Danny, he could hardly walk. He was just wobbling,” Scott said. “We told Danny on the ride back, ‘Well, it’s all downhill from here.’”
After performing seven nights a week every summer, touring the U.S. and sometimes even internationally during the off season and meeting the President and countless other fans, the Bar J Wranglers feel they’ve earned a rest, even if they’re not ready for it just yet.
“We weren’t quite ready but the sale of the business and the land...There were a lot of hurdles we just couldn’t get over,” Scott said. “There are parts of it, like anything, you start looking at the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The concert at EWC was part of a farewell tour for the group meant to say all its “good goodbyes.” The tour will go through the Christmas season before the band goes their separate ways.
“It’s like having a marriage and then you both love each other, but you’re still going to get divorced anyway,” Rogers said. “What sense does it make?”
The band’s last song of the night seemed to express the feelings the band wanted to say: “My heart is sinking like the setting sun. The last goodbye is the hardest one to say, this is where the cowboy rides away.”