Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: My Musical Hero
I first became aware of Don Edwards when he was on a public television show back in the nineties. I wasn’t paying much attention to the show until I heard his distinctive voice singing a cowboy song I had never heard before. It told a story of cowboy life back when, and Don, in his big hat and playing his Martin guitar, was making it come to life. I did some searching and found a couple of his CDs, which I wore out over the years, finally having to replace them after they spent time laying on the dash of my pickup and hiding between the seats.
About twelve years ago, my wife Patti and I ran into Yvonne Hollenbeck in Ft. Pierre. She and Jean Prescott were coming home from a cowboy music/poetry gathering and stopped for some fried chicken and pizza. I became enthralled with the idea of a cowboy gathering, and asked Yvonne why there had never been a gathering or festival in Pierre or Ft. Pierre, this being such a historical spot throughout the years, from Lewis and Clark to Casey Tibbs and Scotty Phillips. Her answer was simple. No one had tried it. That was all the encouragement I needed. My mind started racing, and I thought of endless ideas of how to begin.
I still followed Don Edwards’ career and was planning on flying to Arizona to see him in concert in Tombstone. My daughter and her husband lived in Mesa and were going with me. I dreamed of having Don Edwards at our first festival in Pierre/Ft. Pierre, and just on a hunch called his manager in Colorado to find out what it would take to get Don here. He was non-committal, wanting to check with Don on whether he wanted to travel from Texas to South Dakota. I mentioned I was going to Tombstone to see him in concert, would he be willing to visit with me there? The manager gave me Don’s phone number and I called him and pitched a two night concert to him, like the one he was doing in Tombstone. He said he would like to meet and talk about it, so we planned on a meeting the afternoon between shows in Tombstone.
I was nervous, especially after we went to the first concert and heard him perform in person, just him and his guitar. It was perfect. My son-in-law knew nothing about cowboy music, but having been mesmerized by Don’s voice and cowboy songs, he went straight to the CD table and bought one of every one on sale. I introduced myself to Don and we agreed to meet at the local café the next afternoon. Don and Kathy sat down with us and we carried on a conversation like old friends, coming back occasionally to the prospect of him performing at our yet-to-be scheduled concert. He was a big fan of Casey Tibbs, so the idea of coming to Ft. Pierre intrigued him. We finally agreed he would be willing to do it, so I asked what it would cost to get him to South Dakota. Don said we needed to talk again to his manager, that he would give us a price. We said thank you and goodbye after several hours of visiting. That night Don gave his second performance, repeating only one song from the night before. My son-in-law played Don’s CDs all the way home to Mesa. He was hooked on Don Edwards.
A few days later I received a call from Don’s manager, and after a conversation about how and where the concerts would take place, he shot me a price of $5,000 for two performances. I didn’t know until much later that $5000 was a steal for two Don Edwards performances, and it was a price he told his manager he would be happy with. I didn’t have $5,000 but didn’t hesitate to sign the contract when it
came in the mail. I spent eight months selling the idea and raising money for the new festival from businesses and individuals in the Pierre/Ft. Pierre area. There were snags in developing the two day festival for sure, some setbacks that seemed insurmountable, but when a young lady approached me one night after an unsuccessful meeting and said she wanted to help, things never again felt impossible.
Don and Kathy and Smokey, their blue heeler pup, showed up in a one-ton pickup with a huge camper in the back. I spent the afternoon of the first performance with him at his sound check in the Pierre Opera House, the perfect place for a concert. Don knew what he wanted for sound, and it didn’t take long to get things set up right. Sitting in the front row, listening and watching Don perform was the high point of the festival.
Don and Kathy spent the next day visiting the Casey Tibbs center and other points of interest in the area, then had supper before the show. Don is quiet and shy by nature and doesn’t promote himself much, Kathy seems to take control of that part of his business. There wasn’t a lot of people who knew who Don was, so we again had to be aggressive to sell tickets for two performances. We got the job done, and Don had a whole new set of admirers in central South Dakota. We visited with him a bit after the show, helped in pack up his CDs into the camper, said our goodbyes and shook his hand. It was the end of a dream come true for me.
Since then I have met and performed with many cowboy artists from many states. They, like Don, have one thing in common. They are the real deal, ranchers who have a talent and a desire to share that talent, spreading the gospel of the West to as many corners of this country as they can. Being true to the spirit of “cowboy”, is a given with these folks, from Don on down. May that spirit continue to shine.
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