Rob Dinwoodie

Rob Dinwoodie

Review: Boys cook up a great yarn

It's worth your weight in gold, or make that cattle, to gather around the campfire for O'Keefe Ranch's Cowboy Dinner Show.

Who could resist the combination of a cowboy cook-out, a camp fire and one of the Dinwoodies at O’Keefe Ranch? Not I, for one.

But that wasn’t all that was on offer Friday night. There were stage coach rides and lasso (lariat/riata) demonstrations, where children of all ages could test their skill at roping a wooden colt. There was even a well-staged stick-up, with two masked riders who snatched the mail from the driver of the BX Express before they were thwarted by a female passenger.

Decked in chaps, roping cuffs, boots, spurs, bandanna and Stetson, Rob Dinwoodie looked every inch the cowboy as he sang, played, and entertained with an easy laid-back western Canadian style all his own.

Many of the songs he has written were inspired by local cowboy history, explained in fascinating detail during dinner by O’Keefe Ranch curator Ken Mather. Mather’s preamble to one audience favourite, Hands Up (the title track on Dinwoodie’s latest CD), gave a detailed rundown of the adventures of train robber/prison escapee, Billy Miner, while another told the story of Francis Barnard and his BX Express stage coach service, which ran from Vernon to Barkerville in the 1860s.

Also on stage throughout the slap-up spread –– provided by several excellent “cookies” –– was Armstrong’s Dixon Zalit.

What a versatile and accomplished musician he is. He switched from acoustic and electric guitars to electric mandolin with an overwhelming abundance of ease, talent and skill. He could have fooled everyone present that he was a real cowboy in his faded jeans, hat and boots, until he stopped the show with his Ballad of the Horseless Cowboy in which he confessed how much more comfortable he felt sitting behind the wheel of a car than the reins and bit of a horse.

Mather, whom many may remember as former manager of O’Keefe Ranch, is not only the author of several books on cowboy history, he also recites cowboy poetry. In one of his own poems, he tells about his old cow Sandy and an incident that occurred during the 20 years he lived at the ranch.

However, the most moving poem of the evening was one he recited around the campfire after supper when he and Dinwoodie were joined by Zalit and his brother, Mark, on harmonica, singing old favourites, telling stories, gazing at the moon and slapping at mosquitoes.

It was The Cowboy’s Prayer. All the men followed Mather’s lead and removed their hats as quietude descended on the campfire circle of visitors from several provinces throughout Canada as well as parts of Europe.  They sat “purt near poker still” until Mather’s final “amen” was “spoke.” Then everyone sang Home on the Range as a lone cowboy rode his “hoss” over the hill in the moonlight.

It was a perfect ending to the family fun, education and entertainment.

Rob Dinwoodie and his friends return for O’Keefe Ranch’s final Cowboy Dinner Show this summer Aug. 26. Check for details.

–– Christine Pilgrim is a local freelance writer and an actress known for her historical reenactments of well-known Okanagan and B.C. figures.