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Members of the Campfire Concerto, who will perform on Dec. 16 at 4 p.m. at the T.F. Riggs Theater (from left): Boyd Bristol, Kenny Putnam, Paul Larson and Chet Murray.  (Courtesy)

An afternoon cowboy Christmas concert on Dec. 16 at the T.F. Riggs Theater was confirmed Monday by organizers of the Dakota Western Heritage Festival. The festival has been held in mid-September for the last six years, including this year. 

According to festival co-organizer Carmen Cowan Magee, the Christmas concert is a way to continue the promotion of the area’s western heritage into the winter months. It’s also a way to boost fundraising efforts for the festival. She’s hoping it will become an annual tradition.

Scheduled to perform is the “Campfire Concerto,” which consists of Boyd Bristol (guitar), Kenny Putnam (fiddle), Paul Larson (guitar and lead vocals) and Chet Murray (bass). Cowboy poet Marty Blocker rounds out the playbill.

Magee described the concert as a program of traditional Christmas songs, with a cowboy twist. Blocker has written a set of Christmas poems that he’ll be performing, she said.

The format will be “round robin” with music and poetry interspersed – for two 45-minute sets, and a 15-minute intermission, Magee said.

The 4 p.m. start time is intended to give attendees from across the region a chance to make the trip to Pierre and Fort Pierre for a day of shopping, or a visit to the Capitol Building, decorated for the holidays – but still make it back home for supper, not too long after dark.

Frontman Larson told the Capital Journal members of the band have been performing the last few years for a Christmas program in Lead at the Homestake Opera House. He said there was a sense that it should expand to other areas – like Pierre.

Larson described the band’s program as “a cowboy way of delivering Christmas” stressing that sacred Christmas songs would be included, like “Silent Night,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “We Three Kings.” Concert-goers will also be able to hear standards like “Winter Wonderland,” Larson said. He compared the program thematically to the Bing Crosby film, “White Christmas,” giving proper credit to the birth of Christ as well as the American soldier.

It’s not a “happy holidays” kind of program, Larson said. “If somebody is offended that we talk about Jesus too much, well, Christmas is the story of the birth of Christ.”

Murray echoed Larson’s sentiments, agreeing that the cowboy sensibility was about embracing family and the natural landscape as well as a sense of thanksgiving. There’s a sense of “simplicity” that comes through in the band’s presentation of the music, Murray said.

Some members of the band have played together for several years, Larson said, including the second Dakota Western Heritage Festival. But they’ve been together officially just since this past July.

Rehearsal is somewhat of a challenge, because Murray and Putnam live in Rapid City, while Larson is based in Hill City in the middle of the Black Hills, and Bristol lives in Sioux Falls. Sometimes they’ll drive to cover the distance. But sometimes Larson will record a track as an MP3 digital file and send that along to the others.

For the bassist Murray, it will mark a return to the high school where he graduated in 1982. Festival organizer Carmen Cowan Magee graduated from T.F. Riggs the same year – and they sang in the school choir together, Murray told the Capital Journal.

A year after high school Murray played with a band called Precious Cargo in Aberdeen. The group was inducted into the South Dakota Rock and Roll Music Association Hall of Fame earlier this year. And just this month Murray was inducted into the Legends of Dakota Country Music Hall of Fame.

He has returned to Pierre several times since graduation, Murray said, but has not been inside the school building or the theater, which was built later. When he comes back to Pierre, he makes a point to drive up past the dam, because so much of the city is about the water, he explained.

Tickets for the Dec. 16 show will be $25 at the door or $15 in advance, available within the next week at Prairie Pages bookstore and the Gary Heintz State Farm Agency, Magee said.


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