Cowboy culture lives on at Chico Basin Ranch with Corb Lund concert

By Jen Mulson Updated: July 7, 2017 at 2:50 pm • Published: June 30, 2017 0
photo - Country singer Corb Lund will perform Saturday as part of the Ranchlands Concert Series at Chico Basin Ranch. Courtesy Corb Lund.
Country singer Corb Lund will perform Saturday as part of the Ranchlands Concert Series at Chico Basin Ranch. Courtesy Corb Lund.

For reasons unknown to Canadian country singer Corb Lund, his unconventional Western music appeals to the devout rodeo lover and the most polished urban dweller.

It was the latter group he performed for last month on the East Coast.

"It's interesting playing cow songs in New York City," Lund said. "I have to explain a few more things."

He doesn't mind doing it, though. It's better to be authentic than pretend he's from Nashville.

"My stuff is kind of like country western, but it's quirky and old-fashioned and a bit strange," he said. "Part of it comes from playing rock music for 10 years where you're encouraged to be unusual. I'm a history nut. I really identify with my family history and Western cowboy culture in particular. I'm a big believer in regionalism in art and putting your life and background into your art."

Lund, along with Americana musicians Slaid Cleaves and Matt Skinner, will perform July 8 at Chico Basin Ranch as part of the Ranchlands Concert Series. The concert will benefit the education program at the working cattle ranch 35 miles southeast of Colorado Springs.

About 400 people attend the concerts, which were started in 2010 by Ranchlands, a Colorado-based ranching and ranch management company that owns ranching operations and manages others for large-scale ranch owners. Visitors can arrive early, stake out a campsite with a Pikes Peak backdrop and explore 87,000 acres rife with working cowboys, Beefmaster cattle, horses, hawks, jackrabbits, pronghorn and more, before settling in for music, food and a late-night jam session around the campfire.

"It's a magical place," Lund said.

It's also public domain, though many might not know it exists. In 1999, rancher Duke Phillips won a bid to take over a 25-year lease of the land from the Colorado State Land Board. Two of his children now run the ranch, where conservation and creating a healthy ecosystem is the company line: "Working together to live with the land" is the motto.

"One of our main goals is to bridge the gap between urban and rural communities as a means to perpetuate ranching for the future," said Tess Leach, director of business development. "In order for ranching to sustain, people have to see and understand what ranching is. One of the reasons we do concerts and art shows and educational events is to engage people who would otherwise not come out and see a ranch and ranching itself."

Lund, who grew up on a ranch in southern Alberta, feels an affinity for the ranch and its ranch hands.

"It reminds me of relatives like my dad," he said. "My dad was a vet and raised cattle. Duke is like that, too. He's very open-minded and progressive and not afraid. Cowboys tend to be rigid in their belief systems, and the way things are done on the ranch are the way they should always be done. Duke appears to be open to new things. It's progressive range management. It's a way of keeping the land more healthy, and it's better for the animals."

The country singer's first album was released in 1995; he's earned a little more notoriety in the States with every album, including his seventh CD, 2012's "Cabin Fever," which made its debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Canadian albums chart and was long-listed for Canada's 2013 Polaris Music Prize. "Things That Can't Be Undone" dropped in 2015. He's got at least one big name fan - country superstar Miranda Lambert has praised the down-to-earth cowboy.

That's all well and good, though name dropping might not mean much to a man who has no interest in getting his music on the radio and begrudgingly uses social media to get his music out to younger listeners. He'd rather focus on expressing himself musically and honoring his Western heritage, though he claims he was the black sheep of his traditional ranching family because he joined a rock band at 16.

"It was just fun," he said. "For most people, Western culture is a weird subculture, but it was normal for me. And now people find cowboy culture exotic. I discovered rock 'n' roll music. I was always trying to blend Western lyrical themes with heavy rock music. It worked out pretty well."

Nowadays Lund believes in the power of his music to connect the city mice with the country mice, so to speak. "In this day and age, it's divided between urban and rural," he said. "It's good to show urban people a non-threatening introduction to rural life. Sometimes I think they get scared of it. I've got friends that would scare people in New York and probably vice versa. Things are so political these days, and people get so hung up on it. But there are other aspects of the human experience that aren't based around right or left. Music is one way to bridge that gap sometimes."

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