Western warblers come to town


THE ENTHUSIASM and swinging rhythms of Kristyn Harris, Jessie Robertson and Devon Dawson bring audiences into the show.

By Luke Groskopf Journal staff writer

A trio of yodeling, crooning, guitar-picking music artists will pay Montezuma County a visit this weekend. They bring a distinct brand of Western flair that has its roots in Texas, but that should resonate with anyone familiar with rural life on the range. And those who simply enjoy rollicking, upbeat rhythms.

Kristyn Harris, Janet McBride, and the dynamic duo Miss Devon and the Outlaw are putting on three separate events: a concert in the Montezuma-Cortez High School auditorium Saturday night, a yodeling and guitar workshop in Dolores on Sunday afternoon, and a potluck/concert at the Lewis-Arriola Community Center on Monday evening.

Tickets for the M-CHS concert are $10 at the door, but children 12 and under get in free.

For more information, call Mark Baker at 882-1433.



Devon Dawson - "Miss Devon" - and the Outlaw, Jessie Robertson, met in 2006 while performing at a stock show in Fort Worth, Tex.

"I had been looking for a music partner. (Jessie) had natural ability to perform and entertain. I noticed we clicked with the harmonies on stage. And I liked the variety of male and female voices," Dawson said.

Western swing, their specialty, is distinct from country and bluegrass. Dawson describes the tone as lively and upbeat.

"It's influenced by Chicago-style jazz and New Orleans blues. But (Western) swing isn't as introspective as jazz, and not as simple or pedantic as country music. It has more spark and verve," she said.

One of Dawson's passions is transferring her love of Western swing to the next generation. With McBride, she established the "Buckaroo Club" at the Cowtown Opry in 1998 to mentor and train youth up to age 18.

Another connection to children - an experience she calls the highlight of her career - was being the singing voice of Jessie, the red-headed cowgirl doll in Disney's Toy Story 2. Dawson does not feature in the film itself, but she voiced two songs on the soundtrack released several months after the movie.

A fortuitous sequence of events preceded her landing the role of Jessie. Whether it was blind luck or divine intervention - as a devout Christian, Dawson believes she was "supposed to be there that day" - she certainly didn't plan it.

While at a music festival in Okla., she started yodeling during an impromptu jam session. Riders in the Sky, the band headlining the festival, was involved with the Toy Story soundtrack, and they took notice of her voice, thinking it had the right girlish qualities to fit the character of Jessie. But, before they could catch her name, they lost track of her.

"It was a Cinderella story. The started a search for the girl who fit the glass boot. They called everyone they knew and eventually found me through a (mutual friend)."

The film producers flew her to Nashville, Tenn. to record the songs, which she did despite a nagging head cold.

"I drank a lot of hot ginger tea with honey and lemon," she recalled.


Harris is a relative newcomer to the Western swing scene at age 18. She only picked up a guitar four years ago, when she enrolled in Dawson and McBride's Buckaroo program.

"When I first joined, I had only performed once, at an open mic event in my small hometown. I knew a few chords and simple songs, but I was very shy and timid, and didn't know my instrument well," she said. "With their help I learned fancier songs and increased my repertoire."

Harris admits that learning to yodel has its growing pains. The first attempts are an unpleasant listening experience for all involved, so she quarantined herself, out of earshot, to try it out.

"I practiced where no one could hear: out on the pasture, on my horse," she said.

But she caught on quickly.

Harris is spending a lot of time on the road these days. After Cortez, she's off to California and Arizona. Later this year she'll make stops in Ohio, Missouri, Colorado (again) and New Mexico.

While Harris loves making music - "when I'm on stage, I can't stop smiling," she says - she doesn't want to rely solely on it as a career. The music business is unpredictable and demanding, as many aspiring artists discover the hard way. So she's taking online college classes as a backup.

"I'm going to take (life) as it comes," she said.


When Harris and McBride appear together, the old and new worlds of Western music meet. At age 79, McBride - nicknamed the "Yodeling Queen" - has seven decades of experience under her belt buckle. She said her inseparable attraction to yodeling is "hard to explain," but it happened early in life. She got hooked while listening to local radio as a girl in the 1940s.

"I learned by osmosis. I heard it and couldn't get it out of my head," she said, laughing. "My family lived in rural Maine. (Yodeling) was really all I did in my youth!"

The trick to successful yodeling is learning to "harmonize with yourself," McBride said. "You're alternating between your regular singing voice and your falsetto voice, kind of like the Tarzan yell. But it's not down in your throat - it's not gargling. It's more refined than that."

Yodeling has connotations with Western music now, but it originated in the Central Alps, she explained. When Swiss and other European immigrants came to U.S. shores, they brought their traditions along. It then spread through the Appalachians and into the south. Artists like Jimmy Rogers, Gene Autry, Patsy Montana and Hank Williams integrated it into their songs.

McBride is still involved with the Fort Worth Buckaroo program.


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