Riders in the Sky

Friday, June 1, at the Kent Stage, Kent.

Way back when country and western were two separate genres, men in colorful shirts, kerchiefs, chaps, and big white hats would sing to their horses, their cattle, and to their saddle pals. The singing cowboys brought wholesome entertainment from an idealized 19th-century Wild West into the 20th century. They were free of ironic pose and unaware of any "camp," other than that which one does with a tent at night.

The era of the singing cowboy ended long ago, but since 1977, Riders in the Sky has taken us back to the days of Gene Autry, the Sons of the Pioneers, and Roy Rogers. You can just feel the big sky overhead and smell the living leather in the Riders' chipper songs, like "Texas Plains" -- "I wanna feel my saddle horse between my legs, ridin' him out on the range/Just a-kickin' him in the side, make him show his steppin' pride, back on those Texas plains."

Most importantly, the Riders aren't "dudes" who pretend to be from the range; if they were, would the Grand Ole Opry have allowed them to be members since 1982?