LEAD | Virtually every town observes the holidays with a Christmas show filled with pageantry and song, Old St. Nick, a few reindeer, a sleigh and perhaps even some merchandising opportunities.
But in this mile-high former gold-mining camp, the Black Hills Cowboy Christmas is staged each December at the Historic Homestake Opera House and brings together more than a dozen celebrated regional performers whose prose and poetry, fiddle playing and melodies celebrate the true spirit of the season and the birth of Christ.
“Sure, you have your apple cider and pine scents in the air, but when you sit down and the music starts, you realize this is different than most Christmas shows,” said Cowboy Christmas co-organizer and founder Paul Larson of Rochford. “It’s a story of faith, so what you can expect is great fiddle music, poetry, great song and Sarah Carlson singing, ‘Ave Maria.’”
Larson, a burly, mustachioed range-rider who relishes his role in the production, said he saw what their brand of Christmas show could do a couple years back when his friend, Mark Neubauer, was working on the set.
“He’s `Newby’ to his friends and he is not a believer,” Larson said. “He was helping with staging, doing the woods. But, when Sarah started to sing `Ave Maria,’ I looked over three lines into it and he was sobbing, just crying. I asked him, `I didn’t think you believed?’ And Newby said, `She could make me a believer.’ He was so taken aback by the beauty of that song.”
That sentiment extends throughout the Cowboy Christmas concert. Even though the show is in its ninth year, and various performers have taken their turn on the stage, the tenor of the annual celebration has remained the same.
“This show is about the realism of Christmas and I think that’s what people enjoy about the show,” Larson said. “It’s about the birth of Christ and we celebrate that in this show. It’s not just about the holiday, it’s about what we believe, and that’s what makes it special. It’s about the real meaning of Christmas, so it’s not just a show.”
This year’s Cowboy Christmas concerts are set for 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, as well as a new matinee performance at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9, added by popular demand because of the previous year’s sell-outs that caused organizers to turn people away. A down-home cowboy music dance will follow Saturday evening’s performance.
This year’s lineup includes Larson; South Dakota fiddler champion Kenny Putnam; singer/songwriter performer Boyd Bristow of Sioux Falls; Black Hills singer/songwriter Jami Lynn; bassist/singer Chet Murray from Rapid City; cowboy poet/comedian Chuck Larsen; cowboy poet/musician Robert Dennis of Red Cloud; cowboy poet Yvonne Hollenbeck of Clearfield; The Wilt Brothers Band of Rapid City; Hill City guitarist/singer Brent Morris; pianist Connie Hubbard of Spearfish; and vocalist Sarah Carlson of Lead.
Among this year’s featured acts is Trinity Seely from Montana, a cowboy singer and performer who writes most of her own music and has twice been named Performer of the Year by the American Quarter Horse Association.
Larson said he was particularly excited about the quality of performers on tap for this year’s performances.
“It’s probably one of the most talented crews and well-liked, popular casts that we’ve ever had,” he said. “It’s a well-oiled machine.”
For the first time, tickets to this year’s Cowboy Christmas are reserved seating only. For more information, visit homestakeoperahouse.org or call 584-2067. Wine, beer and soft drinks will be available for purchase.
Proceeds from the event support ongoing music programming, restoration projects, and operations at the Historic Homestake Opera House. Free parking is located behind the building, on Main Street, and in parking lots within four blocks of the theater. The building is wheelchair accessible and assistive listening devices also are available.