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Sons of the Pioneers to play the Corn Palace

The western music group Sons of the Pioneers will perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Corn Palace as part of the Mitchell Area Concert Series. (Publicity image)

The days of wagon trains, pioneers and cattle drives may be over, but the Sons of the Pioneers are still singing.

The group will perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Corn Palace in Mitchell as part of the Mitchell Area Concert Series. Season memberships are $50 for adults, $20 for students or $100 for families and are available at 996-5081. Individual tickets are $25 and available from the Corn Palace at 995-8430 or

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Ricky Boen is one of six members of the group, which is noted for penning songs like “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “Cool Water.” Sons of the Pioneers started in the early 1930s with Bob Nolan, Tim Spencer and the original singing cowboy, Roy Rogers.

“Roy Rogers made us famous,” Boen said. “It’s truly an honor to be part of that history, because the group is such an icon in western music.”

Boen said he grew up with western music in his home state of Texas and began playing the fiddle when he was 10. He joined the Sons of the Pioneers in 2005. This year, Boen said the Sons of the Pioneers celebrated its 79th birthday, and the group claims to be the longest-running singing group in history. The group distinguishes itself from mainstream country music, sticking with the western tributes and cowpoke ballads that made the group famous.

For western music aficionados and musicians, Boen said the group literally wrote the book — two of the founding members left a library of more than 3,000 original songs.

“Isn’t that crazy?” Boen said. “And they’re good songs.”

In addition to the songs written by the group, Sons of the Pioneers has done some famous covers, including “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.”

The group has amassed many awards over the years. Both “Cool Water” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and continue to influence country music and western music artists.

“Even mainstream country artists, even the younger artists know those songs,” Boen said.

In addition, the Sons of the Pioneers have been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, Western Music Hall of Fame, Hall of Great Western Performers and Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame. In 1976, the group was granted its own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 1977 was named as a National Treasure by the Smithsonian Institute.

The list goes on, but for Boen, the biggest compliment he’s received as a musician is when people say he and the other current Sons of the Pioneers “sound just like the old guys.”

“That means we’ve kept the music to the tradition, the way it’s supposed to be,” he said. “It’s really such an honor, and such a neat thing to be part of that history.”

Though the Sons of the Pioneers’ songs no longer intersect with most of mainstream music, Boen said the group still has a strong following.

“It gets passed on from generation to generation, and right now that’s what it takes to keep the music alive,” Boen said. “Young people just need the opportunity to hear it before they can realize if they like it or not.”

And even after all these years, Boen said it’s still a pleasure to take people down the western music trail.

“We have fun doing what we do,” he said. “We just want to take the people along with us when we play.”