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Wyoming town celebrates opening of park honoring country music star

by Matt Joyce
| June 18, 2010 9:00 PM

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Fans of Chris LeDoux are traveling from far and wide to remember the late rodeo and country music star at the Saturday opening of a memorial park in LeDoux's adopted hometown of Kaycee.

The Chris LeDoux Memorial Foundation built the park in central Kaycee and commissioned its centerpiece - a larger-than-life bronze statue of LeDoux spurring a bronc during a bareback ride. Buffalo artist D. Michael Thomas sculpted the statue, titled "Good Ride Cowboy."

"It just has changed the whole atmosphere of Kaycee, because after the flood, things were just so yuck, you know, and now here's this beautiful park," said Pam Kinchen, who helped form the foundation, referring to a 2002 Powder River flood that inundated much of the northern Wyoming town.

"It was kind of a facelift we needed around here to get everybody back on track and be proud of your community."

LeDoux won the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association bareback title in 1976 and sold more than 5 million albums over his music career.

LeDoux played guitar and wrote songs while traveling for the rodeo, and by 1989 had made 22 self-produced albums for a loyal but limited fan base. Things changed that year when Garth Brooks referenced a "worn-out tape of Chris LeDoux" in his hit "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)."

The reference energized LeDoux's music career, leading to a contract with Capitol Records in 1991 and a 1992 Grammy-nominated Top 10 duet with Brooks called, "Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy."

LeDoux died of liver cancer in 2005 at the age of 56. His family still lives on their Kaycee-area ranch.

While LeDoux was still alive, he purchased the Kaycee lots that would become the park after the 2002 flood destroyed the tack shop that had previously been there, Kinchen said.

The LeDoux family donated the land to the memorial foundation, and the foundation paid an undisclosed price for the sculpture, Kinchen said. Memorial golf tournaments, donations and sales of a small version of the "Good Ride Cowboy" statue helped pay for the project.

Kinchen said she doesn't know how many people are coming this weekend but expects tour buses from Colorado, Michigan, Missouri and beyond.

"We started out kind of hoping for 500 people. We set up a foundation website and suddenly we realized it was probably going to be ten times that many," Kinchen said. "We don't know. All we know is there's people coming from everywhere, and we're doing the best we can to prepare for parking."

The event starts with a rodeo tonight. Saturday's unveiling will feature speakers, including Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, and a street dance. LeDoux's old band, Western Underground, will perform, as will Chancey Williams and the Younger Brothers Band.

"We're hoping we can keep everybody fed and happy, but definitely the music is free and will go on until people get their legs danced off," Kinchen said.

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