Behind the Scenes of the Wyoming State Fair: Hitting the Right Notes

by Wes Taylor, Wyoming FFA media intern

When one thinks of musical talent, the mind usually wanders to places like Los Angeles, Nashville, or even one of the cities of Texas where underground country artists are as plentiful as those stars at night that sure shine bright. Wyoming hardly comes up in discussions about musical hotspots, but that’s because no one looks hard enough. Just within our own FFA organization there is a myriad of fresh, young talent; the most prominent of these acts have graced the Pepsi Stage on the Midway with their music this year.

In recent years, the FFA State Talent Show has been where most of these young folks showcase themselves. With groups like Chancey Williams and the Younger Brothers Band doing it years ago, it is no surprise that more students are signing up to perform. In 2016, the talent contest gained even more popularity when an impromptu jam session after held the contest went viral. A video of competitors and state officers playing the country hit “Wagon Wheel” was posted on Facebook and received 34,000 views; it was even played on a handful of radio stations around the state. The following year saw the talent competitors playing in front of the entire convention instead of in a side room at a hotel.

The FFA is going even further to provide more opportunities for its young artists. At the Wyoming State Fair in 2017, members Quentin Moter, Garrett Hartigan, and Wes Taylor were given the opportunity to open for Old Dominion on the grandstands. This year, Darci Tamlin and Wes Taylor opened for Chancey Williams and Casey Donahew. The Pepsi Stage, where smaller acts hoping to get some recognition have played for years, is where the FFA is showing off most of it’s musicians. In fact, the majority of performers on that stage have donned blue jackets in the past.

Country music is where all of these acts – Lacy Nelson, Quentin Moter, Jamie Hansen, Garret Hartigan, and Darci Tamlin and Wes Taylor – are rooted. While there are the occasional songs that do not fall into that genre, it is still apparent that Wyoming’s western spirit has shaped these artists. Lacy and Quentin display this in their covers that stray from the country genre. In Lacy’s rendition of the Bob Dylan classic “Don’t Think Twice, it’s All Right,” her soulful voice combined with the classic semi-spoken delivery, made famous by the likes of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, shine through and make the song hers. Quentin’s version of “Fast Car,” originally by pop artist Tracy Chapman, has just the right amount of twang and sway to differentiate it from the song you may be familiar with.

Jamie Hansen, who has spent time in Nashville, chiefly performs her own music. Her chilling, pop-inspired originals include themes of toughness and strength, which are predominant aspects of Wyoming’s cowboy culture. Garrett’s song selection is comprised of newer country songs that get away from that stadium or pop country style that is played on modern country radio. His Flatland Cavalry or John Pardi covers are songs that capture an image of small town and rural life. He also likes to throw in some Garth Brooks, which no real cowboy can dislike. Darci and Wes do a variety of folk, bluegrass, country, and pop. Their combination of rhythm guitar, upright bass, and vocal harmonies are inspired by the Rocky Mountain form of bluegrass as opposed to the Appalachian style.

Is it surprising that these ag kids are into music? It certainly shouldn’t be. Just like raising livestock or farming, learning to play an instrument or train your voice takes hard work and dedication. Those are two values that FFA students are no strangers to. Whether it be a way to relax after a long day’s work or something to take to the stage, music is easy to get passionate about; when someone who wears corduroy jacket gets passionate, they do great things.

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