The Athens Cowboy Choir is exactly what it sounds like: a group of singing men (and a violin-playing lady) who perform Western songs while decked out in cowboy outfits.
The idea for the band came from the Norman Luboff Choir’s “Songs From the West.” Nick Gould and Jamie Huggins, now members of the Athens Cowboy Choir, wanted an Athens group that could perform those songs. Gould found some friends who were interested, including Jojo Glidewell, a local Athens musician.
“Our combined knowledge of choral music, even reading music, was pretty sparse to start with,” said Glidewell. “But we had many long practices over several weeks, and bit by bit we figured out the harmonies and got it sounding pretty good.”
Unlike other Athens bands, the Cowboy Choir performs with minimal accompaniment, and unlike other choirs, they aren’t professionally trained. The performers of the choir all dress up as cowboys for shows, and even have designated cowboy names (Glidewell is known as Sunshine). This, along with the song selections– which is entirely “cowboy songs”– culminates in a sound and an experience that’s chock full of personality.
To this day, selections from the Norman Luboff Choir make up the bulk of the Cowboy Choir’s sets, but finding the music hasn’t been easy.
“Nick did a lot of digging, eventually contacting Luboff’s widow and the Library of Congress, and [we] got our hands on some copies of original handwritten scores that weren’t in publication,” said Glidewell.
The Choir also does some of their own arrangements, and is even working on some original cowboy songs, though those haven’t been released to the public yet.
Glidewell particularly enjoys performing the song “Colorado Trail.”
“It’s a pretty simple pentatonic melody that Luboff expanded across multiple keys and with lots of variations and I think it’s just enthralling,” said Glidewell.
Since the choir is big, largely made up of touring musicians, and only works well in certain environments, shows don’t happen often. It’s also rare for every cowboy choir member to be present at every show.
The Athens Cowboy Choir will be performing at the Athens Human Rights Festival (May 5th and 6th) and at Athfest (June 22nd through 24th).