If you missed the face-painting and balloon animals outside before the show, you might have wandered into UCSB’s Campbell Hall, seen the performers’ flamboyant glitter-and-fringe Western wear, and assumed you were at a gay rodeo.

How wrong you would have been.

Crooning cowboy posse Riders in the Sky galloped into town Sunday to kick off UCSB Arts & Lectures’ first-ever Family Fun series, which continues with a stage show of Charlotte’s Web and Ozomatli’s Ozokidz concert in November, and more theater and film in early 2012.

Saddling up to their microphones beside a wagon wheel, a glowing cellophane “campfire,” and a creepy collection of small toy armadillos, the Grammy-winning quartet rebounded quickly from sound problems to put on a concert with undeniable giddy-up.

The kind of hombres who pronounce “coyotes” with only two syllables, Riders in the Sky are a longtime comedy-and-harmony outfit in the nostalgic style of Gene Autry. Between humdrum rope tricks and hawking T-shirts (“the humane alternative to branding”), the fellas fired up a mean fiddle on classics like “Yippee Ti Yi Yay” and “Buffalo Gals,” as well as new classics like “Woody’s Roundup,” which they performed in Toy Story 2. Show highlight: their live accompaniment to the Pixar short For the Birds.

Kids from 2 to 8 years old rushed to dance and sway at the foot of the stage. There’s something delightfully incongruous about seeing flip-flop-footed Santa Barbara beach rats engaged in a call-and-response yodel while waving pretend lassoes over their heads.

The group signed autographs before clip-clopping off into the sunset.


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