The Bar J Wranglers are singing their farewell after 44 years
The western singing cowboy isn’t a style of music you hear much anymore, but one band in Jackson Hole, Wyoming has been keeping the spirit of cowboys like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry alive for 44 years.
The Bar J Wranglers at the Bar J Chuckwagon is a family business, said rhythm guitar player and front man of the Wranglers Scott Humphrey.
“When we first moved to Jackson Hole, dad wanted to find some local musicians and train them to be cowboy singers,” Humphrey said. “He wanted Western guys that knew the new history of the West and knew the Western culture.”
Visit the Bar J Chuckwagon, Humphrey said, and you’ll be treated to a western music and comedy show.
“We invite people out to enjoy the atmosphere and feed a western style meal on a tin plate with tin cups, and then dim the lights down after supper and put on a Western stage show,” Humphrey said.
There are five band members and each is showcased throughout the show. Although each member brings something different to the band, Humphrey said their aim is the same.
“Our goal is to uplift folks and to put a smile on their face,” Humphrey said. “And having them forget about their cares for an evening, sit back and unwind and just enjoy some good wholesome family entertainment.”
But the Chuckwagon has permanently closed. The Bar J Wranglers are retiring.
“A lot of mixed feelings the next generation couldn't quite afford the land we were sitting on, you know the business couldn't afford the land,” Humphrey said.
Even though the band grew in popularity and toured in the off season, Humphrey said it wasn’t enough.
“The Jackson Hole business we had there was just a summer business and you have to pay bills 12 months out of the year,” Humphrey said. “And when income is only coming in the summer months it's hard to make all those formulas work for the next generation.”
The Wranglers, Humphrey said, aren’t the only ones facing challenges that come with rising prices in the Teton area.
“We saw a lot of the locals pulling out, you know, a decade ago, you know, a lot of the people that had been hanging in there had to pull out because of the affordability to live there,” Humphrey said.
The American West is changing. Humphrey said their situation is not unique in the agricultural industry that is associated with the west. New generations can’t afford the land, so businesses are dying, along with western traditions.
“The singing cowboy is falling into the woodwork,” Humphrey said. “We prided ourselves on keeping that era of the cowboy alive, giving people a taste of history.”
But Humphrey said the band retiring isn’t all bitter.
“The sweet part comes when we start thinking about well, maybe there'll be greener grass, as we move on to different pastures,” Humphrey said. “And see what the next element of life brings. We're looking forward to that.”
The Bar J Wranglers are finishing up their final tour. They are set to perform their last show in Logan, Utah at the Ellen Eccles Theater on Dec. 18.