Five-thirty in the morning is not an hour generally claimed by musicians. While most singers and strummers are dozing on the bus or at the local Motel 6, there is one musician who is rising to face the day: Wylie Gustafson. Of course, there is a reason for his early waking: his cattle aren’t going to feed themselves!
Despite his successful career as one of America’s most popular traditional entertainers, Wylie still gets up everyday and tends to the livestock. It grounds him, and is the backbone of his art. For the secret of Wylie’s honest, soulful music isn’t in any musical formulas or flashy gimmicks. Its purity lies in Wylie’s character: earnest and hard-working, but beaming with friendly vigor - and a smile as warm as first sunlight rising over the prairie.
Wylie’s wild blend of western swing, classic country, cowboy, and folk music - served up with a healthy helping of his infectious energy - gets the crowd moving every time. No less authority than Billboard Magazine declared “When Wylie & the Wild West play, folks get up and dance!,” and from festivals to state fairs, bars to barn dances, it rings true. When asked to define his music, Wylie states, “We are a hybrid that tends to defy a simple classification. I know that the young urban crowds in Seattle appreciate us as much as the working cowboys do. Our music is not limited to one type of listener.”
Keeping his home base near Dusty, Washington (population 11), Wylie has spread his influence the world over. He has appeared on the Grand Ole Opry over 45 times, and also performs at such prestigious venues as the Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, the National Folk Festival, Merlefest, NPR Radio, the Bumbershoot Festival, The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering; state fairs in Minnesota, Kansas, Ohio, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho, California, Washington, and Montana; the Calgary Stampede, Pendelton Round-Up and Houston Rodeo & Livestock Show. He has earned an international reputation not only through his recordings, but also from his appearances at Japan’s Country Gold Festival, three Australian tours, and a seven-week residency at Euro Disney.
That is not the resume of a mediocre performer: Wylie’s dynamic stage presence keeps getting him invited back to venues year after year. “In 2000, for the first time,” explains Charlie Seemann, director of the National Cowboy Poetry & Music Gathering in Elko, Nevada “we had some audience participation: we asked who they would like to come back to the gathering, and Wylie was one of those they selected. In fact, of all the acts, he was right at the top.” Not only was he a fan favorite at Elko, he was invited back to play the Friday night dance there two years in a row, a rare occurrence at this major event. “It’s unusual,” says Seemann, “but we had to have him four years in a row because he was so popular.”
With his latest album, Paradise, and his ever-increasing media profile (with feature spreads in everything from The Seattle Times to Western Horseman), Wylie & the Wild West are bringing their rollicking sound to new audiences the world over. In fact, his voice has already echoed in millions of homes as the prominent yodel in the Yahoo.com advertising campaign.
All of Wylie’s music is dashed off with a hardy dose of trail dust. For to him, the ranch and the recording studio are inseparable. “The connection between my ranch life and my music is extremely close,” he says. “Most of my songs reflect the great wide open where I live and punch cattle. I believe in creating a song that inspires the listener... either lyrically or rhythmically. It is also important that I offer something that takes traditional ideas and bends them into a new direction. ”
In this era of prepackaged superstars - of pale imitations of country music being pushed onto the public by faceless media giants - the music of Wylie & the Wild West is a beacon of truth and honest beauty. “In our music and our presence,” explains Gustafson, “we try to offer a simpler, less common, and more soulful essence. We try to be ourselves.” By being himself, Gustafson has become one of the most exciting and endearing acts in contemporary music - country, western, folk or otherwise.
""Obviously Wylie makes phenomenal music,"" says Chris Tahti, director of the Minnesota State Fair, ""but he’s not just a good recording artist, he’s a great performing artist. From his performances here, he’s gained a really solid following. People plan to be here to see him. The best part of his performance is the reactions of people who don’t know who he is - they walk by, and he pulls them into the seats. He’s a magnet,"" Tahti beams. ""Not only does he draw a crowd, he keeps them there.""
But it’s not just crowds at clubs, fairs, concert halls, and other more mainstream venues who are drawn to Wylie. Internationally-renown western entertainer Waddie Mitchell relates this revealing story: ""Shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing, I was out there to participate in a Ben Johnson celebrity rodeo. Wylie was also competing. A memo was passed around inviting all celebrities to visit the children’s ward where the youngest victims of that terrorist act were in different stages of the healing process. At one point of our visit we were taken to a room filled with non-bed-ridden little patients. There some celebrities used the time as a sound byte and photo opportunity, but in one corner I noticed a fascination-drawn covey of broken and traumatized little bodies crowding around to touch or sit wide-eyed on the lap of a yodeling, storytelling, singing Wylie. Small children and animals recognize a pure heart instinctually -now you know one more too.""
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