SHERIDAN — Nerves tingle and palms sweat when performing in front of several thousand people at Sheridan WYO Rodeo.
The pressure is likely amplified when audience members observe the playing of the national anthem. Spectators turn their attention to the singer, take off their hats and stand respectfully during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The song is performed every night before rodeo competitions begin, and it presents a unique opportunity for local musicians to showcase their skills in a patriotic manner.
Four different acts — seven people total — are slated to perform the song this year. For some, it represented the first time singing at the event. For others, 2019 will continue more than a decade of performances. For all participants, though, performing the song in front of a hometown audience carried special significance.
Jana Davis attended the rodeo in her younger years and envisioned herself singing in front of the crowd one day. That came true this year when Davis performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” Wednesday evening.
Davis appreciated the chance to perform the song at the rodeo for the first time. She said the song, which was written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key, ideally serves as a minute of harmony between audience members.
“It creates that, just for a moment, patriotism and unity and a sense of pride,” Davis said. “…We may be different sexes and different colors and different beliefs and pray to different gods, but while you’re in America, for that moment, that sense of pride it evokes is amazing.”
Davis has lived in Sheridan for the past 20 years and grew up knowing she wanted to sing professionally. That happened when Davis was 16, and she has toured as a rock artist over the years opening for legendary artists like Bob Dylan and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Davis is currently the co-lead singer with her husband Ken Kilpatrick of the rock band TRICK.
Although Davis performed in larger venues during her career, she said the rodeo brings extra significance.
“It’s a beautiful song,” Davis said. “It’s short and it’s sweet and I enjoy singing it. It means a lot to me.”
The same sentiment applies to Stephanie Zukowski, who performed a rendition Thursday night. She comes from a military family and said the song holds special meaning to her.
Zukowski teaches music at the John C. Schiffer Collaborative School and helps with the Sheridan County Girl’s Choir. She often sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” in previous years, but this year marked her first time performing it since 2004.
Zukowski called it a huge privilege to lead people in the anthem.
“It’s prevalent in every place in the world that music is something that brings people together,” Zukowski said.
Zukowski has resided in Sheridan for 11 years and said it was more special to perform in her community, particularly in front of her current and former students.
All of the performers noted the difficulty of the song itself. Zukowski said the words to the anthem are tricky, and it is not easy to recover from a mistake. The song also forces one to use the lower and higher ends of one’s voice.
“It’s a beast of a song,” Zukowski said.
Annie Magera will sing Friday evening. She grew up in Sheridan and sang at the Sheridan WYO Rodeo as a teenager and young adult — often performing the anthem every night — and has sung at a variety of professional sporting events. Magera moved back to Sheridan 19 years ago with her family and has done a plethora of theater work locally.
Magera has performed in about 10 separate years, but 2019 marks her first time singing at the event in about 25 years.
Like Davis, Magera always pictured herself performing at the rodeo. She learned the anthem at age 8 and has mastered the difficult song.
The tune holds more meaning for her now, and Magera looks forward to performing in front of her hometown and sharing a few moments of connection and reflection.
“If you are a true performer and you pay attention to what you’re singing and you have a message to convey, it’s pretty powerful,” Magera said. “…I’m excited to just bring that beautiful song to light.”
The final night will begin with a performance by The Craft Brothers: Mitch Craft, Dave Craft, JT Craft and Will Craft. The group has sung at the rodeo for about the past 15 years.
The Crafts have lived in Sheridan their entire lives and felt honored to have performed over the course of many years.
“It’s Sheridan’s big event for the year and it’s the big night of the big event, so it’s a big deal and very humbling that we get to be the ones to perform,” Dave Craft said.
Mitch Craft said the song presented a “scary prospect” the first time. They had performed “The Star-Spangled Banner,” at other events, but singing at a packed venue felt daunting.
That first year, the Crafts worked hard to make a polished version of the anthem and have stayed with the arrangement. After stressing to make the song perfect during the first few years, the family can enjoy the experience now.
The brothers have performed every Saturday for the past several years, and it excites them to sing in front of a full house.
“There’s an extra element of fun that comes out of singing for that big of an audience,” Mitch Craft said. “…By the time we go out into the arena to sing, we’re feeling quite patriotic.”
Dave Craft agreed.
“We’ve sang the national anthem at a lot of different places, but that one seems like it has a lot of meaning not just for us but for everybody in the place,” Dave Craft said.
Dave and Mitch Craft both said it sometimes becomes difficult to maintain their composure during the song because of powerful emotions.
“It’s an overwhelmingly cool feeling,” Dave Craft said.
Overall, Mitch Craft feels fortunate to have the chance.
“If I have one emotion about the whole thing, I feel so lucky to have grown up here, to be able to sing for the community every now and then,” Mitch Craft said. “The song that we sing is a celebration of the way we live in our country.”
The performers bring different backgrounds and experiences to the meaningful song, but they all relish the chance to sing in front of familiar faces.