Pamela and Scott Brownlee, hosts of the Cowboy Supper Show at Rockin’ B Ranch, are stepping back after 28 years of serving and entertaining the local community at their barn and home located along Idaho Road, on the Washington side of the Washington-Idaho state line.
Pamela, 72, and Scott, 70, met at Grove Music School, in Los Angeles, and worked in the education, sound, and the cartoon industry for several years, always with the idea of moving to a smaller and quiet town where they could spend more time with their kids.
In the winter of 1992, they moved their two kids, horses, ponies, goats, bunnies, and chickens to the home and barn at 3912 N. Idaho Road. However, shortly after, their two horses died. With an empty barn, a friend suggested they put on a concert and invite the community. The entrance fee to their first concert was a plate of cookies, and guests sat on bales of hay.
From there, the Cowboy Supper Show grew over the years to five nights a week, serving barbecue dinners to up to 300 guests. Their kids took part in the show, in addition to one of Pamela’s brothers, and the growing fiddler community also gave several performances. Their five-person band played music composed and arranged by Scott, with vocals by Pamela. They took a two-year hiatus in 2011 after Pamela became sick. When they returned, they slowed down to one night a month for the past several years until the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to shut down operations altogether. They looked at coming back once pandemic-related restrictions were lifted, but made the decision earlier this year to retire from the shows, while still renting the barn out for events.
The Journal sat down recently with the Brownlees to discuss their long careers in music and entertainment and what they look forward to as they step out of the spotlight.
How did you decide to move your family and animals here?
Scott: Well, I used to work freelance for Disney, and I was also teaching postproduction sound at UCLA and Loyola Marymount University. I was doing sound for Disney and started recording their cartoon shows. Disney wanted me to build a recording studio, and I did plan out the whole thing and had a space picked out in the Academy of Arts building, everything was going. But one morning after only two hours of sleep I said to Penny, “If I do this, we’ll never see our kids.”
We’re both from small towns, and we always had a five-year plan to move back to a small town again, but it kept getting pushed back. So, we said let’s just go now, and we did. Penny had two brothers here, a doctor and a lawyer in Coeur d’Alene. A month after making an offer on the place, we had moved in.
Disney said we can’t do anymore business with you. My line was, I don’t care I’ll work in a hardware store. A week after we moved here, Disney called and said, not only will we give you the business you have, but we’ll give you all our television and animation business. It was too much to refuse, so that’s when I started to commute back and forth. I kept teaching at UCLA and LMU. I was at UCLA for 26 years and LMU going on 20 years.
When you were leaving LA, did you already have a vision of a musical life here?
Pamela: Oh no. It was like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland—Well, I’ve got a barn, and I can sing. We came from Hollywood and brought Hollywood with us in some ways.
I studied vocal performance and Scott studied composing and arranging. He’s a singer too, and a songwriter, and an arranger. I get to go up on stage and give the audience what he produces. And he’s one of the best standup base players I’ve ever worked with.
Scott: Oh, go on.
Pamela: Oh, you want me to go on? To his core, he is a musician and excellent songwriter, arranger, and director. All those things we got to do once we got here. And our kids got involved. They were on stage with us, as was my brother. The journey has been rich and colorful, never knowing what’s going to happen next.
We’re so crazy. Maybe it comes from being in that industry in LA and figuring out what you’re going to do next. We’re open to use what we got, for as long as we can.
Can you tell me more about it, financially? It seems like it can be a drain.
Scott: Well, originally that certainly was the case. And it was fine, I was working, and it was a great tax deduction. As the reputation grew and the crowds grew, then it started making financial sense. We were self-supporting for several years before COVID closed us down.
We always made jokes when we first started doing this, as musicians, the best way to get a gig is to open your own place. Back in the day, when I was fresh out of dropping out of college to join a band, my parents were very patient. The band was touring all over and garnering a reputation, but they weren’t happy I had dropped out of college.
One day, I was having lunch with my mom at this Chinese restaurant, and she was having a parent conversation with me. ‘Don’t you think it’s time you got a real job?’ And I said, ‘You know, mom, I know you would like for me to make money. Money is not important to me. What’s important to me is that I can be onstage and see somebody in the audience tap their foot, laugh, and forget themselves for an hour or two. That’s what’s important to me.’ We had to bring that spirit here.
Pamela: And I felt the same way. I was a driver.
Scott: The end of that story is that I opened up my fortune cookie and it read, “Success is everything.”
So, you made your own success. What was a typical show?
Pamela: We employed 20 to 25 people, and it was all a choreographed performance from the moment guests walked through the barn doors until they left. You wouldn’t recognize Scott in his character as Deputy Bicuspid. He would take his teeth out. He has no teeth.
Scott: That’s from an automobile accident from when I was on tour with the band.
Pamela: Scott, as Deputy Bicuspid would dismiss each table to walk up to the barbeque line and get their plates of food. We told everybody to eat until it was gone. Then we would ask them to drop their dishes in the sink, just like you would at home, involving them in the experience in this way.
When we moved here, there were a ton of kids involved playing the fiddle and guitar. That first hour as people were walking in, we would invite all those fiddle players that were ready to perform to play while people sat down and got their lemonades. People would just come up to us all the time with suggestions of what to do, can you do this? And we would figure out a way to do it.
What do you look forward to now that you’re taking a step back from performing?
Pamela: For us, the last two years has been a time of reflection and regrouping. Both our kids live here, and my sister has moved here too. We used the time as well as we could to figure out where to go from here. We have two people that will be in charge of events, and we’ll be onsite. But things have changed, and costs have gone up. I don’t think we will know much until we get into it. Our first event will be in May.
Scott: Often, people ask if we are going to do a lot of traveling, but we were on traveling music groups for decades, so probably not. And I’m still teaching. I don’t think I’ll be quitting that anytime soon.
What advice do you give to people who want to pursue a similar musical life as you?
Pamela: Mine is, figure out what you do well, see what’s out there and how it fits with who you are. Those two things have to work together. Step out and see what happens. It’s an individual journey, but we’ve been lucky to do that together.
Scott: Regardless of what track you are in, or think you are going, pursue a lifestyle as opposed to a profession. Whatever that comes out to be. I certainly didn’t think I’d be working for Disney in a recording studio for years. And I certainly didn’t think I’d be working in two of the major film schools in the world.
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