What’s the force behind the magnet that draws people to Dubois and holds them here?
It’s no challenge to capture part of it: the spectacular wilderness landscape. Photographers capture that all the time, and scenes from this valley are all over Instagram. Another pull is the history, from the tectonic collisions to Indians and cowboys and Butch Cassidy, from mountain men to homesteaders and lumberjacks.
But there’s one special pull which is nearly impossible to describe. You have to feel it for yourself. Tourists responding to a survey last year said they liked the people, and called Dubois “friendly.” A hiking buddy told me that she retired to Dubois because the people here had grabbed her and held her close.
Skip Ewing, the country singer and songwriter, calls it the “heart.” He should know, because the heart is his business, and his passion.
Skip says he felt that tug most strongly in 2004, during his benefit concert for the new medical clinic. He decided to auction off a shirt that cowboy Ty Murray was wearing when he won a rodeo championship. Skip suggested that people in the audience might pool their bids and donate the shirt to the clinic, rather than one lucky bidder taking it home for bragging rights.
Together, for no personal reward, people gave away $5,000 for the shirt to benefit the community. It now hangs in a frame in the clinic.
“That gave me a sense for the kind of heart, the generosity of people here,” he said. “That’s the same kind of heart Dubois had when I first came here.”
“If we can be part of that heart,” he added, “I’m about that.”
So Skip and his partner, photographer Linda Gordon, have settled down in Dubois. They’re in a position to live anywhere in the world they want to, Skip told me. And they’re here.
Skip doesn’t throw his credentials around (which wouldn’t gain him many fans here, anyway). But they’re impressive: Five of Skip Ewing’s country love songs have placed in the top 20s on the country-music charts. In 2000, he was named Songwriter of the year by Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI), and he’s won the Country Music Association Triple Play Award for three number 1 songs within a year.
They’re the kind of love songs that somehow grab you where it hurts a bit, like “Love, Me” and “Little Houses.” (The announcers wouldn’t credit Skip, the songwriter, of course. They’d mention the singers, names like Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, Conway Twitty, Merle Haggard, Kenny Chesney, and Reba McIntyre. )
I ran into Skip and Linda at the Perch coffee shop sometime around Thanksgiving. He looked vaguely familiar, and I was puzzled to see him chatting with the locals as if he knew them (which he did). I felt I ought to recognize him, but I didn’t (it’s my failing to have a poor memory for faces as well as names). Someone introduced him as Skip Ewing and, city girl though I used to be, at least I recalled his name.
Probably about a decade ago, I had heard Skip at a concert in the back room at the Rustic Pine after one of his retreats for song-writers. But I had no idea that his was the creative mind behind some of the songs I liked best, after I began listening to country music on the radio.
The workshops (he called them “Horse and Writer” retreats) brought would-be songwriters to the Lazy L&B Ranch up East Fork, which he first visited when he wanted to give his five-year-old daughter a good place to ride horses. They went on for about a decade. I never saw Skip after that one concert, but he had been coming back to Dubois, whether there were retreats or not.
As the child in a military family and then a country singer, Skip Ewing has traveled widely. Quite a while ago, he sold his home in Nashville. He and Linda had multiple homes and were traveling a lot when Linda got a job offer that made them consider settling down somewhere.
They asked themselves whether that was what they really wanted. Skip had this dream that involved horses, which he isn’t ready to talk about yet. Eventually, they decided to settle here.
Grandson of a thoroughbred rancher, Skip learned to love horses as much as he loved country music. “The more time I spend on horses, he says, “the happier I am.” He hints that horses will have an important part in the next phase of his life’s work, but for the moment he intends to use his music to help the town.
Just after I ran into Skip and Linda at the Perch, they began shooting the first of five videos about Dubois that he has posted on Facebook. They are long, leisurely conversations with people in the town.
“This is Dubois, Wyoming, my home town now. I love it here,” he opens in the first one. “I love it here!”
He was already booked for his early December Christmas concert at the Dennison Lodge, which attracted fans from as far away as Texas, Utah, Louisiana, and California. His goal seems to be not so much self-promotion as planting firm roots in this new ground.
Skip told me that, when he first visited Dubois, he knew he’d come to the right place almost as soon as the plane landed. This brought echoes of one my Skip Ewing favorites: “You Had Me From Hello.”
“… Your smile just captured me.
You were in my future far as I could see
And I don’t know how it happened but it happens still.
You ask me if I love you, if I always will.
Well, you had me from hello…”
© Lois Wingerson, 2019
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