By Tim Leeds
Ken Overcast regaled a capacity crowd at the Heritage Center with selections from his repertoire of songs, poetry and humor Wednesday.
About 60 people came to hear Overcast at the fourth Celebrity Luncheon sponsored by the Heritage Center. He told the crowd at the beginning of his performance that if anyone had to get back to work or an appointment, feel free to leave.
"It happens to me all the time," he quipped.
No one left early.
The show mixed songs with jokes, comments and poetry. Overcast, who wears an eyepatch, said he offended so many people with jokes over the years that now he limits himself to stories about one-eyed cowboys.
"I figured there can't be too many of us," he said, and told a story about three Ole, Sven and Lars.
He twice tried to get the audience to yodel along with him. During his last song, he said the audience should yodel along after everyone closed their eyes so nobody could see them.
Overcast explained the origins of yodeling, saying cowboys needed to sing to the cattle they were driving to keep them calm.
"That's where yodeling came from," he added. "They just ran out of things to say."
He told the audience to help him during his rendition of "Back in the Saddle Again," just before going into the yodeling that won him the Will Rogers Yodeler of the Year award in 2000 from the Academy of Western Artists and the International Cowboy Yodeling Champion award in 1997 from the Western Music Association.
Before performing Gene Autry's trademark song, Overcast said he made a woman in the audience cry with it once. He introduced it at that time as Ray Whitley's song, and said Whitley's daughter told him afterward that virtually no one gives her father the credit due for writing the piece.
Overcast said after his performance that he plays mostly in the Western states although he said he does have a following on the East Coast. He considers himself a cowboy singer, not a country singer as he once did.
"People see a hat and think of country music in Nashville," he said. "I think we need to sue those guys for stealing our hats."
During the show, Overcast, who is a third-generation rancher from the Chinook area, said there is a special feel to people on the Hi-Line.
"We have so much heritage in this neck of the woods, so much culture," he said.
After performing a song about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which he composed using a poem written by a high school English teacher from Great Falls, Overcast said, "We've seen that red horse of war recently. We've been pretty fortunate the last few years."
He said it's too bad the cowboys aren't on the theater matinees anymore. It might make a difference in the war on terrorism.
"Gene Autry and Roy Rogers could go over there and smoke those guys out," he said.
Overcast has been performing in support of his seventh album, "Montana Campfire," a storytelling album that mixes some of his favorite old cowboy songs and some of the stories from his "Meadow Muffins" column, which is printed in several publications and on the Internet.
Since recording his first album, "Silver and Gold," in 1993, along with a live-performance video, Overcast has been nominated for several awards along with his yodeling championships. Those nominations include a Grammy for his "Prairie Poetry, Vol. I," and two nominations for Male Performer of the Year by the Western Music Association.
Overcast said he is writing a book of short stories, a collection of Western humor and philosophy.
"It's just common sense," he said.