(soft guitar music) ♪ Back roads and bi-ways ♪ ♪ Camp fires will lie awake ♪ ♪ Sweet grass and summer sage ♪ ♪ Come on baby ♪ ♪ Come on and take my hand ♪ ♪ Take my hand ♪ ♪ Take my hand ♪ ♪ We're Dakota bound ♪ - [Announcer] Join us as we travel to share stories and songs from the Prairie.
- Hello, I'm Eliza Blue, and we are here today at The Wild Idea Buffalo Ranch in Western South Dakota.
And wow, we wish you were here.
It's gonna be an amazing, amazing day.
In fact, it's gonna be so great that we've decided to split this into two episodes.
So there's actually gonna be two parts so you can enjoy all there is to see and to hear and to learn about Wild Idea Buffalo Ranch.
Not that long ago, the prairies and plains of the Dakotas were the realm of the buffalo.
Literally millions of individual American bison roamed the Great Plains.
There are now few places left in the United States where one can experience what it was like to look out over the Rolling Prairie and see buffalo as far as the horizon line.
One such place is Wild Idea Buffalo Ranch in Eastern Pennington County adjacent to the Cheyenne River.
Founded by Jill O'Brien and author Dan O'Brien, Wild Idea's Mission is to regenerate the prairie grasslands while improving our home planet and our food supply by bringing back the bison.
For this special two-part episode we wanted to bring some other lauded artists to join Jill and Dan at Wild Idea to celebrate the buffalo and wild prairie they thrive upon.
We'll hear music and stories from rancher and folk singer Chuck Suchy, as well as listen in on a conversation with Chuck and Dan about the sense of place that the prairie has shaped in them and in their art.
Lakota hoop dancer, storyteller and dear friend Kevin Locke was also going to be part of these episodes, but he passed away unexpectedly just prior to taping.
Our performances here are dedicated to his gentle spirit and memory, and to the hope that we can carry forward his work to connect people to the spirit of the land and to one another.
(man plays flute soulfully) Well, it is an absolute pleasure to be here with Chuck Suchy today.
We featured him on our last season of Wish You Were Here and it was so wonderful that we had to have him back.
(laughs) Selfishly, I just love playing and singing with you and just being in your presence is a blessing.
So I heard you playing this song when we were getting ready and I just fell in love with it and I asked if we could play it together.
So is there anything you wanna tell us about this particular tune?
- This was a, I call it a commissioned work.
I have a friend Bob Wolf who's an author and writer, and he was I think he was living in Nashville at the time and he had this radio show he was starting up about storytelling where people could send in their stories either recorded or written.
And the whole show was about storytelling.
And he asked if I would write a theme song for him.
And so I was thinking about storytelling and how when you tell a story, you offer yourself.
And in essence, you offer your heart hopefully, if you're telling the truth.
And so I followed that theme and put some music to it and it came out with "Tell Me Your Heart".
- Oh, beautiful.
Well, and this feels especially appropriate since we are gonna be talking in a little bit with author Dan O'Brien who obviously also is a really compelling storyteller.
♪ Tell me your heart ♪ ♪ Tell me your tears ♪ ♪ Your anger and laughter ♪ ♪ Tell me the years ♪ ♪ That make up your story ♪ ♪ And make you a part ♪ ♪ Of the great conversation ♪ ♪ Tell me your heart ♪ ♪ Tell me, tell me ♪ ♪ Tell me your heart ♪ ♪ Make me your memory ♪ ♪ And tell me your heart ♪ ♪ All through the ages ♪ ♪ The pages are warm ♪ ♪ With wisdom of stages ♪ ♪ To weather the storm ♪ ♪ Spare me your secret ♪ ♪ And bare every part ♪ ♪ Tell me your story ♪ ♪ Tell me your heart ♪ ♪ Tell me tell me ♪ ♪ Tell me your heart ♪ ♪ Make me your memory ♪ ♪ And tell me your heart ♪ ♪ (guitar and violin play soulfully) ♪ ♪ Tell me tell me ♪ ♪ Tell me your heart ♪ ♪ Make me your memory ♪ ♪ And tell me your heart ♪ ♪ Make me your memory ♪ ♪ And tell me your heart ♪ - So the next song we are gonna play together is called "Buffalo Alone".
And this is a song that hasn't been recorded.
Is that right?
- That's correct.
- So, we're gonna have the world premiere here at Wild Buffalo, which is appropriate.
And this song is based on a true story.
Do you wanna tell us more about it?
- Okay, don't cry now.
- I'll try not to.
I'll try not to.
- 'Cause I'm not gonna cry.
I had the privilege of, along with my sisters and my mother taking care of my dad out at the farm and he died in his own bed.
And it took a few days.
Don't mean to be morbid or light about that, but and so it was kind of this vigil and it was a privilege and a very close time for our whole family.
And somewhere towards the end of that four days or whatever it was, three or four days, I just fell.
I don't think I fell asleep, but I had this sort of dream vision of a buffalo climbing a mountain covered with snow.
The snow was just plowed off the mountain and fell down to the valley.
And, I'll never forget the rocking motion of that buffalo as he plowed through the, or she plowed through the snow.
And I'm not a really dream analyst or anything like that, but it was a very comforting experience and I carried it around for quite a few years before it found its way into melody and verse.
And so that's what you're going to experience here.
(guitar plays soulfully) ♪ Sitting in a photograph ♪ ♪ Burned in my brain ♪ ♪ Flowing motion epitaph ♪ ♪ Vision that remains ♪ ♪ From the night my father died ♪ ♪ Comforting my pain ♪ ♪ There's a photograph ♪ ♪ One I can't explain ♪ ♪ Clouds go rolling ♪ ♪ Above a lone buffalo ♪ ♪ Climbing a mountain ♪ ♪ Shoulder deep in snow ♪ ♪ Slow rolling rolling ♪ ♪ To the valley down below ♪ ♪ Clouds rolling rolling ♪ ♪ Above a lone buffalo ♪ ♪ It's not cheap and not easy ♪ ♪ Shoulder to the bone ♪ ♪ Not cheap and not easy ♪ ♪ Buffalo alone ♪ ♪ (guitar and violin play soulfully) ♪ ♪ Step into the sepia ♪ ♪ Warm within the cold ♪ ♪ Spirit growing stronger ♪ ♪ Body growing old ♪ ♪ Writing my own epitaph ♪ ♪ (indistinct) and storm ♪ ♪ Journey on a separate path ♪ ♪ Buffalo alone ♪ ♪ Clouds rolling rolling ♪ ♪ Above a lone buffalo ♪ ♪ Climbing a mountain ♪ ♪ Shoulder deep in snow ♪ ♪ Snow rolling rolling ♪ ♪ To the valley down below ♪ ♪ Clouds rolling rolling ♪ ♪ Above a lone buffalo ♪ ♪ Buffalo alone ♪ ♪ Buffalo alone ♪ ♪ (guitar plays soulfully) ♪ - Well it is with great pleasure I am sitting here with Chuck Suchy and Dan O'Brien.
Part of the reason I wanted to have us all get together is I think it is a really unique and interesting relationship that both of you have with the work you do as artists but then the work you've also done living on and through the land itself.
So I don't know if you wanna just each give us a little background of sort of how those things overlap and just kind of your different paths as ranchers.
- I've always thought of myself more and my family as more being beef farmers.
- Rather than rancher.
I'm just, we have horses.
I care for horses.
I give special care to horses that have special needs and love them dearly.
And, but I'm not like the traditional cowboy or that of sort of-- - You don't wear a cowboy hat.
That is an important distinction.
- I probably don't.
I wear a wide brim hat that shades my neck.
(laughter) And so, so rancher is especially when I get out in this beautiful landscape I can see where, I can see the utility of the working cowboy just because of the space and the terrain for one thing and working cattle that way.
We are more and have been a more tightly managed, smaller acreage kind of beef operation.
So, and I live on the place where I grew up.
My dad built the buildings by hand in the late 1920s.
And so that has special meaning for me as well.
- I was born and raised in Ohio and it was, as I told Chuck earlier today, 1966 was a tough year to be 18.
I went to college luckily, and I came to graduate school at the University of South Dakota.
I wanted to, there's a writer there who many people remember Frederick Manfred.
And that was before the days of MFAs or that kind of thing.
And I wanted to study under him.
So I came out here and I knew I wanted to be here because we'd taken a family trip in a station wagon, you know, who knows when.
And I loved this land.
I knew I did.
You don't have to be in South Dakota very long to covet the black hills.
And so here I am.
- So I've been reading this book.
There's multiple volumes in this series.
And the series is called "Kinship Belonging in a World of Relations".
And this is the second volume and it's all about place.
And so on the back, it uses this term, it's called Placelings.
It is said before we are, or we are placelings before we are human beings or earthlings that we are influenced by the places we live and work.
So I wonder what you would say about the way that these places that you live and work have influenced your songwriting and your writing.
- For me, being the only son and the youngest, the baby of the family and I have three older sisters that are well older.
I mean, my closest sibling is seven years older then there's another seven year leap and then two between the oldest.
So I grew up pretty much an only child out on the farm.
And at the time, especially in my teens, I thought this was like prison or the end of the world or that life was going on someplace else that it wasn't where I was.
And yet now I just look longingly and gratefully back at having the chance to go out with my sled in the middle of winter with my dog till 10:30 at night and just be under the stars and feel the cold and really absorb the sense of the place.
In terms of heritage and relationship with this land, the calendar doesn't start at 1860.
It was long before.
And so hopefully there were little kids out sliding down hills at 10:30 at night soaking up the starlight.
- This was new to me.
This country was new to me.
We took the family trip in the station wagons I think I mentioned, but I wanted to live out here from that very time that I saw that, I mean, I was maybe nine or 10 and I wanted to come back.
I mean, I felt a need to come back even as a kid.
The whole idea of space and you know, Ohio was dying in my eyes.
It was all, you know it was a factory here and a factory there.
And I got out here and of course that followed me.
And, you know, I see factories and all that stuff.
And it breaks my heart to see the developments up on the hills as I go into town and all of that.
So this is where I have to be.
- All right.
We do have to add one more thing though because we're gonna play a song now that was partly inspired by you, Dan, because one of the first times we met I asked you what your favorite kind of grass was, (laughs) which is not the the standard conversation starter but you humored me.
And I think you even said at the time like, "Oh, are you working on a song?"
Which I was, so we're gonna play that song here for you in just a minute.
So we did actually perform a version of this song in season one, but I think with this, the backstory that I just shared we really had to play it again here at Wild Idea surrounded as we are by all these native grasses.
So this song is called "Follow Me".
(guitar plays soulfully) ♪ Follow me, follow me, follow me ♪ ♪ To the wild prairie ♪ ♪ Western wheat ♪ ♪ Needle leap ♪ ♪ Plains (indistinct) ♪ ♪ Sandily ♪ ♪ Red leaf sage ♪ ♪ Tall blue stem ♪ ♪ Follow me, follow me ♪ ♪ (accordion plays soulfully) ♪ ♪ Dark sparrow ♪ ♪ Meadowlark ♪ ♪ Swainson's hawk ♪ ♪ Sandpiper ♪ ♪ Sage brush ♪ ♪ Prairie dog ♪ ♪ Stands up tall, stands up tall ♪ ♪ Follow me, follow me ♪ ♪ Oh follow me ♪ ♪ To the wild prairie ♪ ♪ Oh oh oh ♪ ♪ Mama born elk ♪ ♪ Silver leaf ♪ ♪ Prickly pear ♪ ♪ Watch out dear ♪ ♪ Follow me, follow me ♪ ♪ Oh follow me ♪ ♪ To the wild prairie ♪ ♪ Oh, oh, oh ♪ ♪ (instruments play soulfully) ♪ - [Announcer] To find and watch previous episodes of Wish You Were here with Eliza Blue Head to watch.sdpb.org.