“Bear is a modern-day singing cowboy.”
No sparkling outfits like the silver screen make-believes of the mid-past century, nor rough-gruff look of some “country singers,” with depilated, dirty hats of today, but “Bear” looks the cowboy-way he lives, with his own guitar accompaniment singing beautiful songs everyone can understand and are proud for their kids and their grandparents to hear.
Whether the farm co-op meeting, Winter Olympics in Utah, Carnegie Hall in New York City, RFD-TV Cowboy Church or the Parkerville Baptist Church in Parkerville, Kansas, USA, Barry Ward has his audience toe tapping.
They’re all smiling on the edge of the seats or pews, and sometimes singing along when Ward smilingly steps behind the microphone strumming guitar accompaniment to tunes he’s written about life, cowboys, farming, God, and more.
It was a return engagement for Ward, often known as “Bear” by his many friends and acquaintances around the world, to the small country church in Parkerville, which has only a couple dozen residents itself. He’d been there just more than a year earlier.
Since there aren’t any businesses, no school anymore, and the post office is closed, Parkerville folks get their mail out of White City these days, but Parkerville population escalates every Sunday morning as loyal followers from more than 30 miles away congregate at the Baptist Church..
While a block square was filled with vehicles when Ward and his wife, Victoria, came recently for two Sunday morning programs, it is really no different every Sunday, according to Pastor George Dykeman.
Pews were filled for the 11 o’clock worship service featuring “Bear” in testimony and song, after a late performance and show at Lebo the night before.
Pastor Bob Strom, who has served the Parkerville church since 1958, and is still an integral part of all church functions, with assistance from Kay, his wife of nearly six decades, helped Pastor Dykeman in hosting the noon dinner featuring food dishes brought in by every church member.
During the country meal, “Bear” and “Vic” talked about their life from a Kansas wheat farm to their ranch home in a Colorado mountain valley, and on the road locally and around the country, and the world singing about their history, present and optimism to “God’s plan.”
“I grew up near Copeland on the western plains of Kansas near the famous cow town Dodge City on the homestead settled by my great grandparents in the late 1880s, shortly after the buffalo had been replaced by cattle,” remembered Ward, who worked alongside his father and grandfather on the family ranch.
Western singer, or more aptly a cowboy who sings Western songs, “Bear” has the real knowledge of the songs he sings. Caught up in the romantic era of the cowboy, Ward never let that stop him from embracing the lands as a farmer, and sharing the music of his heritage.
“Bear” writes most of his own songs featuring his own and other’s experience on the land, along with his strong faith and overflowing love for his country.
One would likely be surprised that Ward never picked up a guitar before he started taking lessons at 35 years of age.
In “Bear’s” hands, “the guitar takes on the resonance of a five-piece band, enhancing the songs and bringing out the meaning of the words. Performance is always about the listener connecting to the song as far as Barry is concerned. The very reason he travels the country to share his music,” according to Orin Friesen at the Prairie Rose Opera House near Benton.
So how does a western Kansas farmer become a successful western singer? Being a good singer and songwriter helps.
“Years of drought, the high cost of fuel and fertilizer, and government bureaucracy pushed things along,” Ward admitted.
With sadness in their hearts and tears in their eyes, the couple finally had to let go of the old homestead. However, you can’t keep a good cowboy down for long. “Bear” grabbed his guitar and began singing for whoever would listen.
At first it was at Farm Bureau meetings and livestock auction barns, but by 2003, Ward had performed at the Olympics and Carnegie Hall.
Traveling to 22 states and two foreign countries, “Bear” has shared his songs at Cowboy Poetry Gatherings, Silver Dollar City, venues and churches across the West.
Ward was honored as the 2013 Western Music Association Male Performer of the Year.
His recording of “Eli Crow,” written by the late Paul Hendel, won the Will Rogers Award as 2012 Song of the Year from the Academy of Western Artists. According to True West Magazine (January 2013), the song “should become a classic cowboy gunfighter song in the vein of songs like ‘El Paso’ and ‘Cross the Brazos to Waco.’”
These days, when they’re not on the road, Barry and Victoria spend their time on a ranch near the small town of Elbert, Colorado.
The ranch house is nestled near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, surrounded by boulders and beef cattle. An alarm clock is not needed. The cattle play the part of the rooster, bawling as they come in for the morning drink at the windmill stock tank.
With a mug of “Barry’s Blend Pinon Coffee,” Bear and Vic settle into their porch swing and gaze at Pikes Peak in the distance. It’s a peaceful moment the couple cherishes even more, knowing that soon they will be back in the truck, heading for another show somewhere in America.
Of the hour long program featuring inspirational songs strong in faith which Ward presented at Parkerville, with encouragement from Victoria in a front pew and the church congregation, “Ghost Chickens” drew the most grins and applause.
Not quite sure exactly when he heard this song for the first time. Or, who it was he heard singing it. But, “Bear” thought it was a cute song so he stuck it away in his memory bank to use later.
After a few years went by, “Bear” began slowly adding the song, written by songwriter-comedian Sean Morey, to his concerts to break up the set with a little humor.
In the beginning, an unsuspecting victim would be persuaded out of the audience to join Ward on stage. This person was given the task to adlib “chicken noises” at certain points during the song, usually finishing with a rousing impersonation of clucking, wings flapping and feet clawing to the delight of their friends in the crowd.
As the popularity of the song increased and requests for it continued, the lone victim on stage was replaced by group participation of a sing-along on the chorus. Occasionally, it has been documented that in various locations, “ghost chickens” will fly onto the stage during the performance.
Finally, after years of asking, “Is ‘Ghost Chickens; on any CD?” the answer is “yes.”
Ward’s discography includes: Lonesome County Road, West of Dodge, Christmas on the Ranch, Joy Sweet Joy, Whispers of the West, The Journey, Passin’ Thru, Long Way Home and My Blood is in This Land.
Barry Ward recordings and other collectibles were offered for sale to those attending the Parkerville performances. Victoria manages Barry’s music career, and the recording company, Flying W Productions.
Their website is BarryWardMusic.com, and they can be contacted at 303-243-1978, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.