There’s some heavy stuff ahead for Wyoming and the Forum as we all get back to work after the holidays — but first, something a little lighter: being a musician in Wyoming. What inspires these wonderful people? What keeps them here?
The companion piece in today’s Forum is by Amy Gieske, a musician who has loved playing in Wyoming for many years. Below, there’s the voice of a younger artist: Marko Ruble, a former UW student of mine and a great guy. About 35 now, with a wife and new baby, he founded an independent music and arts festival here near Cody (WHAT Fest), as well as a couple of other small companies.
The fact that young people can make their own music in this day and age, and can generate recordings without big studio backing, is pretty exciting. Wyoming is more and more a place where I’d like to see that happen.
— Pete Simpson
By Marko Ruble
Music starts at the top of the peaks in all the mountains contained in the Cowboy State, the Equality State, the Mineral State — Wyoming.
It starts as the wind, pushing down those peaks, collecting on the ridge lines and in the drainages, as it compresses and finds its way down to the valleys and plains below.
I believe wind is a form of music. Wind is pressure gradients in the atmosphere, moving and oscillating, affected by density, altitude, temperature, and the physical relief of the world around. The only difference between wind and music is our ability to control music — our ability to create, interpret, manipulate, and reproduce the sounds we call a hymn, a song, or an obnoxious noise.
Moving down the mountains, things start to get interesting. Perhaps, if one finds himself wandering the sage flats below the mountains in the spring, he can hear the next progression of Wyoming music beginning to form, maybe through a meadowlark, as it calls out its location to the universe. It seems the land, plants, and animals set the stage for musicians in Wyoming to perform. This is why it is not difficult to find a natural audience in the emptiness of Wyoming — a venue. We can and do play anywhere, without the help of an impresario.
But sometimes it’s hard to find a human audience. Back in 2003, in response to the unavailability of gathering places where people could come listen to up-and-coming musicians, a few friends and I sat outside my little green house in Cody and envisioned a music festival, eventually dubbed “WHAT Fest.” We thought we were pretty big time, as we sat like a bunch of wannabe bedouin music traders on an area rug I picked up at an estate sale.
Now, the important thing to remember about “WHAT Fest” is that, at the time, it was one of the only venues, where independent musicians and artists with no money and little to no resources could occupy a larger stage, with someone to listen to them, and whoop and holler until the cows came home.
“WHAT Fest” provided a crowd and not just a bar crowd, but a real crowd, wherein the energy was palpable. Keep in mind, “WHAT Fest” is a small piece in the history of 46,000 days of statehood filled with many forms of music.
Wyoming music begins in the mountains. It begins as wind, moving down the peaks, pushing into the plains below. This is how Wyoming musicians tap their internal muse, learn their craft, and create a sound. When all of this comes together, perhaps, there is a performance, a recording, or a film that someone living on the outskirts of Nowhere or Wherever, Wyoming, hears or sees, which carries them closer to a fuller understanding and appreciation of this place that the rest of America often forgets about. It’s been the way of things in our state for 126 years, but every day, somewhere in Wyoming, there is wind, which means every day, in Wyoming, there is independent music. Thankfully, both the music and the wind are here to stay, though we may not always appreciate it.