The Highwaymen: Duo rides for country music

MOUNTAIN HOME, Ark. (AP) — A recording artist riding on horseback across four states to raise awareness of traditional country music had a layover in Mountain Home on a recent Saturday night.

Country artist C.J. Garton and his 13-year-old son, Clinton, stayed overnight recently at the Saddle Club Arena. The "Riding for Real Country: The Ride Back Home" event has the father-and-son team riding from Nashville, Tennessee, to the family's ranch in Depew, Oklahoma, which is about 40 miles southwest of Tulsa.

"The heartbeat of America is in songs — storytelling songs — like those of Townes Van Zandt, Merle Haggard or Randy Travis. They were songs that spoke to us as individuals and helped us through our problems in life," C.J. Garton said on a recent Sunday afternoon. "Songs are an inspiration, and what our youths ingest is a big part of today's issues. They just don't have anything that gives them roots or heritage, something to help work through their issues."

C.J. Garton is an independent musician whose songs are available on Spotify and iTunes. His latest single is "The Gun," a song told from the point of view of a firearm that highlights both the good and bad the device is capable of being used for.

Clinton Garton created the song's music video and is filming the duo's ride to Oklahoma for a documentary about their journey.

"We've gone through three states, and the thing everyone tells us is they don't listen to the radio anymore. That breaks my heart, because that is going to kill radio eventually," C.J. Garton said. "Our music industry is a monopoly. If you're not part of the big conglomerates (that own the radio stations), then you don't get your music played. We want to give the listener — that person on the other end of the radio — a voice."

The duo left Nashville on July 23, and expect to reach Depew, Oklahoma, by Aug. 21. The father-and-son tandem — along with Poncho and Lefty, their aptly named horses — will have traveled 650 miles by the time they reach the G Bar Ranch in Oklahoma, The Baxter Bulletin reported.

"When we're riding through towns or on the sides of interstates, people pull over and they want to know what's going on," C.J. Garton said. "Going through town, meeting and interacting with people is the best part."

The Gartons left the Salem area on a recent Saturday and arrived in Mountain Home around 8 p.m. that evening. They planned to ride to the Cotter/Flippin area on a recent Sunday afternoon once the rain stopped.

Spending that Saturday night at the Saddle Club Rodeo Arena, which was hosting the Pink for Peitz Benefit Rodeo, was a happy accident, the Gartons said.

"We didn't even know this was going on until we got into town," C.J. Garton said. "People told us there was a rodeo in town, and we rode up about 8:30 p.m."

The Gartons were allowed to sleep in the air-conditioned concession stand that Saturday night. Prior to that, they had planned on sleeping under the bleachers or on the ground.

"The generosity and kindness of others has been a blessing. It's made this entire trip what it is," C.J. Garton said. "It seems like there's always someone offering to buy you breakfast, or let you use their corral for the night. We've been very blessed on this trip."

The travelers have designated "drop points" along their route where they pick up grain for their horses, field rations and other items. A gas station in Mountain Home was one such drop site.

The Garton family handled the trip's drop points in Tennessee, while Oilfire Whiskey of Oklahoma, one of C.J. Garton's sponsors, is handling the drop points in Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas.

The Gartons' menu consists mainly of prepackaged MREs, a government abbreviation for "Meals, Ready to Eat." The travelers have also hit a few drive-throughs and at least one pizza place on horseback.

"The horses, they're eating better than we are," C.J. Garton said. "They're going through about $200 a week in groceries."

Pancho and Lefty started the trip averaging between 18 and 22 miles per day, but are now covering about 31 or 32 miles each day.

"We started out riding them in the early morning before it got real hot. Then we'd pull the saddles off them and take a break before riding some more," C.J. Garton said. "But once you take their saddle off, the horses think they're done for the day. We never really got back up to speed in the afternoons.

"Now we don't leave until about noon or 1 p.m. unless we have cloud cover. Then as the temperature drops (in the evening), they still have the motivation to keep going. So we're getting more miles starting later than we did starting in the morning."

Videos and photos from the Ride for Real County event can be found on the Gartons' Facebook page, which can be found at facebook.com/CJGarton1. The Ride for Real Country: The Ride Back Home trip also has an entry on crowdfunding website Indiegogo for those wishing to make donations to help cover some of the Gartons' expenses.

"I know the big thing now is everyone is saying, 'Forget Nashville,' but I want to embrace Nashville," C.J. Garton said. "I want to embrace everybody. We, as Americans, need to come together. We can put our problems — gun issues, political issues, world problems — into song. Even stuff about daily life like feeding your family or paying your bills, you can reach other people by writing songs about it. It's hardworking music for hardworking Americans."

___

Information from: The Baxter Bulletin, http://www.baxterbulletin.com

An AP Member Exchange shared by The Baxter Bulletin