Cowboy singing group making a stop in eastern Idaho for one last bow
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IDAHO FALLS – It’s the end of an era for a local group of singing cowboys.
The Bar J Wranglers, who serve nightly crowds a unique blend of classic western songs, comedy and a traditional cowboy supper of beans, bread and brisket, are hanging up their spurs after 44 years. The group of Jackson, Wyoming-based entertainers launched a farewell tour throughout Utah and eastern Idaho earlier this month, and they’ll be making a stop in Idaho Falls and Rexburg for a series of benefit concerts starting next week.
Scott Humphrey, one of the performers and the band’s manager, tells EastIdahoNews.com there were a number of factors that went into closing the show, but the primary reason is because the band’s 20-acre property in Jackson was recently sold.
“After extensively looking into other options or possibly relocating, we decided it was in our family’s best interests to fold up shop and call it quits,” Humphrey says. “It was a very difficult decision. We hate to see the legacy we’ve created in Jackson Hole go away.”
Rising property taxes and lack of affordable housing in recent years have plagued the city’s western way of life. The COVID-19 pandemic brought an onslaught of out-of-staters seeking escape from stringent lockdowns and other restrictions.
Despite the massive growth, Humphrey says it’s changed the landscape and created a new dynamic for locals. He fears the town’s western image is fading into history.
“The sad thing is 44 years of feeding the folks with fun, family entertainment … and our chuckwagon supper has come to an end. The Bar J Wranglers exist because of that business,” says Humphrey.
How it all started
Humphrey’s father, Babe, first came to Jackson Hole in 1977. He’d been part of the Flying W Chuckwagon in Colorado Springs, and introduced a western flavor to the group’s repertoire that included three and four-part harmonies of popular cowboy favorites, and a cowboy supper served on a tin plate.
“He was in the Marine Corps and he and buddy of his created a fun show with songs and comedy. He spent his military career entertaining troops,” Scott explains. “He came out of the Marines and went into radio. He had a great voice for radio and had great musical talent, which led to the creation of this chuckwagon supper concept.”
Once the lease was signed, it wasn’t long before the Bar J Wranglers were born. The group was formed the following year in 1978 and they started performing for nightly crowds during the summer months.
Once Scott and his younger brother, Bryan, joined the group a decade later, they started taking the show on the road and introducing their brand of western songs and humor for people unable to see them in Jackson.
It also allowed them to keep a consistent group of entertainers together and pay them year-round. Word of the band’s reputation continued to spread and Scott says they quickly became a regional favorite.
After 20 years, the Bar J Wranglers had become a staple and Scott, along with his dad and brother, purchased the Bar J Chuckwagon property in Jackson.
“It just created a legacy here in Jackson Hole and it’s hard to let it go,” says Scott.
After nearly half a century of performances, Scott says he and the other members of the band are looking forward to the next chapter of life.
“Forty-four years is a long time to commit to … seven nights a week to the business,” Scott says. “I’m turning into a grandpa and my oldest daughter had a baby last December. We’re ready for the next phase of life.”
The end of an era
From the beginning, the band has served as a nostalgic throwback to America’s singing cowboy, a trend popularized by Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and the Sons of the Pioneers in the 1940s.
Over the years, Bar J Wrangler fans have enjoyed the group’s arrangements of classic western tunes, like “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” “Cool Water,” and “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”
The group has written their own songs as well, including titles like “Wyoming Wind” and a yodeling favorite called “Lulabelle.”
Intermingled with the musical performances are the comedy bits that have been an iconic part of the show over the years. Scott says it’s the comedy, not the music, that’s given audiences a reason to keep coming back.
“If it was just the music, the kids would get bored with it,” he says.
Now, as the group takes its final bow, Scott says the Western music and stage show is a type of entertainment that doesn’t resonate with people as much as it used to.
“Society doesn’t hold the singing cowboy up like it used to. The further we get from that time period, the further into the shadows that it fades.”
But with popular shows like “Yellowstone” offered on streaming platforms, Scott says there is still a market for western-based entertainment. And in certain parts of the country, he says the cowboy lifestyle is alive and well.
“People are still eating beef and beef cattle are being raised by cowboys,” he says. “But they’ve traded in their horses for four-wheelers.”
Despite the evolution of entertainment trends, technology and the western image of his hometown, he hopes the values he’s spent a lifetime preserving will continue to survive, even if the image doesn’t.
Scott is inviting fans to one final show in eastern Idaho. He’s promising an uplifting night of entertainment the whole family will enjoy before they ride off into the sunset.
“A lot of smiles and tears over this final season,” he says. “Giving them a night where they can forget their cares and spend some time with the Bar J Wranglers — it puts a smile on their face and they leave feeling uplifted. That’s what I’m going to miss.”
The Bar J Wranglers will be performing at the Idaho Falls Civic Center on Nov. 29. All the proceeds will benefit the Idaho Falls Rescue Mission. There will also be a benefit concert at the Rexburg Tabernacle on Dec. 9. For a complete schedule and to purchase tickets, click here.