One of two things can happen if you spend too much time on the back of a horse in the middle of Rocky Mountain nowhere: You'll find yourself wishing you were anywhere else, or you'll find poetry tucked away somewhere in the night sky.
Chuck Pyle falls into the latter category. The critically acclaimed songwriter has an uncanny knack for taking seemingly ordinary experiences and drawing from them a bigger picture of life.Whether it is a parody of New Age ideologies or a tale of loneliness on a Texas highway or growing up on the graveled streets of Boulder, Pyle's music reaches beyond cliched commercialism to tug directly at the heartstrings of human experience.
Pyle brought that extraordinary talent to the Social Work Auditorium for a Saturday performance sponsored by the Intermountain Acoustic Music Association. And his first Salt Lake performance was unforgettable.
Pyle has garnered a reputation over the years as a talented songwriter, recognized as a source for other performers. Jerry Jeff Walker has tapped into Pyle's reservoir of tunes. So have John Denver and Chris LeDoux.
But Pyle's Saturday performance revealed a songwriter who can also sing with that rare kind of passion of those who actually believe in the songs they write and sing. He also laces his show with healthy doses of humor, personal anecdotes and pleas for human beings to understand each other (and themselves) a little better.
Clad in boots, jeans and a Texas-sized cowboy hat, Pyle opened the show with his popular "Wide Open Spaces," a tune that would set the tone for more than two hours of Pyle songs. There was a two-stepping song about being stranded in Texas with a broken-down Toyota pickup; one about "feelin' guilty for being ashamed of being afraid"; and a ballad about his faithful horse that carries him safely through the dark.
And of course, there was the Pyle favorite, "Cadillac Cowboy," a rodeo song made all the more enjoyable with a personal anecdote about how he wrote it for his little son who couldn't understand why Daddy was on the road so much.
The set also included more serious originals, including an emotional tribute to a peace officer who lost his life saving others during a dam break in Colorado; "Returning Home," a metaphor for self-discovery; and "Spirit of the Endless Sky," a tune that conjures up all sorts of cowboy images.
And there was the crowd favorite, "Step by Step," which had the audience heartily singing along: "Step by step, side by side, hand in hand this world's a better ride."
Opening was Jay Toups, one of Salt Lake's finest songwriters and guitar pickers. Toups, treated local folk music fans to a collection of original commentaries about life on Planet Earth, as well as life in Utah.
While his protest songs employ a decidedly humorous bent, Toups again proved that humor can be a wickedly effective weapon in conveying a message.