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The Music Of The American West (And A Yodel)

Wylie Gustafson of Wylie and the Wild West, one of the performers featured in...

Credit: Bill Watts

Above: Wylie Gustafson of Wylie and the Wild West, one of the performers featured in "Don't Fence Me In: Songs, Music and Poetry of the American West".

The movies have taught us to imagine the American West a certain way: horses loping across open ranges, gun fights at high noon. But music also tells a story. Now, a musical tribute to the American west is coming to San Diego and KPBS arts reporter Angela Carone has a preview.

What does the American West sound like to you? Does it sound like John Wayne in old school westerns like "The Searchers?" For today’s TV fans, I bet it sounds less like "Gunsmoke" and more like HBO’s "Deadwood."

It’s not just movies and television, books and music have all helped define our ideas of the West. Now a new musical revue is hoping to capture the American West of today, while also hearkening back to its iconic past.

Titled "Don’t Fence Me In," (after the Cole Porter tune), the show is sponsored by the National Council for the Traditional Arts. It brings together musicians, bands and poets, all of whom devote their talent to western music.

Take the Quebe sisters. They may sound like the offspring of the Andrew Sisters, but these three do all of their own fiddle playing (listen to radio story above!) Sophia Quebe says she and her sisters were only 7, 10 and 12 when they first heard fiddle playing in Texas. "We were just going down to the county fair of the town we used to live in and there was a fiddle competition there. We’d never seen anything like that.”

The girls took up the fiddle and began practicing six hours a day. They are now in their early 20s and perform their Texas-style swing music all over the world.

Joining the Quebe sisters on this tour is the man behind the Yahoo yodel! (now you really have to listen to the radio story above!)

His name is Wylie Gustafson and in addition to yodeling, he and his Wild West band will play some cowboy music while they’re here. Gustafson says, "Cowboy music is definitely American music, but it's a hybrid of folk music, cowboy and country music."

Gustafson is a bona fide cowboy who owns a ranch in Montana and raises cutting horses. He sings about the cowboy lifestyle, parts of which may surprise you. "A few of the cowboy songs you’ll hear have a strong rock and roll backbeat. To me there’s always been a dance element to cowboy music. Cowboys love to dance."

Not only do cowboys love to dance, apparently they also dress to impress. "I spend a lot of time on Ebay making sure that I always have a good tie. Not only that, but I have a nice handmade hat and jacket. I think cowboys have always had a little element of being a dandy."

Not exactly the way John Wayne played it, but everyone is entitled to their version of the west.

Also in the evening's lineup is North Bear. This group of young American Indians from a Wyoming reservation have taken traditional singing and hand drumming, and added elements of hip hop and R & B.

The Grammy-winning band Los Texmaniacs will perform their blend of modern rock and Conjunto/Tejano music, the accordion-driven sound of both Mexico and the Texas Rio Grande.

The American West is a big swath of land, which makes it almost impossible to capture the musical diversity within its confines. "Don’t Fence Me In" gives it a shot, with a diverse line-up, some modern ideas, and lots of nostalgia for a West that lives on in all of our imaginations.

The musical revue “Don’t Fence Me In” takes place Monday night at UCSD’s Mandeville auditorium as part of ArtPower.

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