By Hilary Langford
Whether you're a fan of honky-tonk twang or not, you know this rascal. Wylie Gustafson is the voice, er … yodel behind an infectious commercial. Does “Yahooooooooo!” ring a bell?
Yep, that's him. Wylie is the Yahoo yodeler. But he's also the real deal. Calling from his Montana ranch at 5:30 a.m, this bona fide cowboy has been up an hour and a half tending to his horses and is eager to explain the key to a successful cattle call: “In one word, spirit. Definitely spirit.” When I suggest that he revive the art of mountaintop hollerin' to sidestep our text-messaging troubles, his immediate response is: “That's not a bad idea! We need to get back to our foundation and basics. The yodel was one of the earliest forms of communication” (as part of his Richmond Folk Festival appearance, he'll teach a Yodeling 101 workshop).
When he's not schooling folks on the highs and lows of vocal acrobatics, he's throwing down with his band the Wild West. To the surprise of many, these guys came together in Los Angeles at the rocking Palomino Club. Wylie, who takes his ever-so-perfect cowboy name from his uncle, explains: “I grew up in a great rock 'n' roll era. Everything from the Rolling Stones to ZZ Top was an influence as a youngster, but I also love Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins. … what we play now is some sort of hybrid of that. You'll see a rock 'n' roll spirit with a cowboy theme.”
Despite the love of music, he says, leaving his 14 horses to go out on the road is tough. “It's a huge part of what I do and part of my music. My inspiration is being out on horseback. I don't like leaving 'em.”
His signature yelp has landed him in some interesting places, from Conan O'Brien's show to “Space Ghost Coast to Coast,” but the Yahoo gig remains the most unbelievable to him. “That's the one I really didn't see coming. Those three notes changed my life. I never had any idea I'd be yodeling for a living since I really was just doing it for fun. But I also do music you know, and I think the other part of my success though comes from writing from the heart and celebrating the West, which is the life I love. It seems to resonate with people whether you're wearing a cowboy hat or not.”
For inquiring minds privy to the recent rebranding of the internet giant, you'll be glad to hear that Yahoo will be taking Wylie out for another ride. “Yep,” he says. “As far as I know they're still keeping the yodel and actually, there are a couple different versions of my yodel you might hear.”
Friday: 7-7:45 p.m. on the Ukrop's/First Market Stage.
Saturday: 4-5 p.m. on the Ukrop's/First Market Stage.
Saturday: Gustafson will teach basic yodeling from 1:15-1:45 p.m. at the MeadWestvaco Family Stage.
Sunday: Noon-12:45 p.m., Wylie will join cowboy poet Paul Zarzyski at the Altria Stage.
Sunday: 5:15-6:30 at the Richmond Times-Dispatch Dance Pavilion.