Western Jubilee likes its place away from the bustle

Western Jubilee owner Scott O'Malley and business partner Kathleen Fox Collins keep cowboy music alive through their recording studio.

Western Jubilee Recording Studio

Employees: four, but “more accountants and bookkeepers than we can count.”

Website: westernjubilee.com

Phone: 719-635-9975 or toll free at 1-800-707-2353, fax 719-635-9789.

 

Not many people know that a cowboy music recording studio, Western Jubilee, is just off downtown’s main corridor, and that’s the way owner Scott O’Malley likes it.

It’s not that he doesn’t like people, and it isn’t that he doesn’t want people to buy cowboy music recorded there. He just prefers they do their shopping elsewhere around town.

“We’re not a retail storefront,” he said. “We’re not set up that way.”

What they are set up for is recording and preserving a slice of American music history: Western music from a bygone era.

O’Malley’s first artists are still on the Western Jubilee label: Don Edwards, cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell, and Sons of the San Joaquin. There are new ones, too, like Sons and Brothers, from Westcliffe, Colo.

The studio allows almost anyone to record there – popular local group The Haunted Windchimes have recorded under the label, as does longtime local rock band Flash Cadillac.

Some 1,000 songs have been recorded at the studio over the years.

But there’s no glass booth and sterile recording equipment at the Western Jubilee. The stage is covered in a backdrop of antique quilts. O’Malley’s collection of musical instruments — mandolins, guitars, fiddles — hang from one wall next to a collection of oil paintings. Pennants from universities and national tourist attractions — “See Rock City!” and “Pikes Peak: America’s Mountain” — hang from the ceiling, while posters of old-time burlesque shows decorate one wall.

“It’s just my hobby,” said O’Malley, who’s turned Scott O’Malley and Associates, and the Western Jubilee, into a family business with his two sons involved. “It’s what I do for fun. It’s old-time Americana clutter, is what I call it.”

“People really respond to it,” said Kathleen Fox Collins, who has worked with O’Malley for 13 years and manages the stage acts and daily orders. “They see it, and they respond.”

While their physical location is a loosely kept secret, cowboy music is still a vibrant niche for its recording artists. Western Jubilee is determined to fill that niche, and takes orders for CDs from around the world.

“Every morning, it’s so interesting to get mail from Czechoslovakia, from Germany, from the United Kingdom,” Collins said. “People still are really fascinated with the American cowboy, which is interesting when you realize how short the time period actually was.”

Western Jubilee has brought the cowboys into the digital age, although reluctantly.

“You have to do it,” O’Malley said. “But I think it sounds different. And it’s hard to keep track of — one song downloaded here, another one over here. Someone else wants to stream it on Spotify.”

O’Malley prefers to do business the old-fashioned way, shipping CDs to customers and individual retail shops. But he’s constantly playing with new ideas too.

That’s how the “top-secret” concerts started. People lucky enough to be on O’Malley’s mailing list are informed about six or eight concerts held each year in the 125-seat theater. Musicians perform on stage, and everything is recorded. It nearly always sells out, O’Malley said.

“Word gets out,” he said. “We tell one person and they tell their best friends. We don’t mind. We always say, ‘If you’re comfortable having them in your living room, we’re comfortable having them at the Western Jubilee.’”

Since cowboy music lovers aren’t cut from the same fabric as some pop music fans, O’Malley refers to his repeat customers as his friends.

“In all these years of business, I’ve never had a bounced check,” he said. “I think cowboy music lovers pay for their music before they pay their light bill. They are passionate — and they are loyal. The latest star with the latest hairdo isn’t going to win that loyalty. It takes talent, built over years.”

And O’Malley has built his stable of talent over the years. Mitchell and Edwards draw crowds wherever they play, as do the Sons of the San Joaquin. He started the recording studio after meeting Mitchell and Edwards, who wanted something different from their Warner Bros. label.

“So we started out with the idea: We’ll be opposite of Nashville,” O’Malley said. “And it works.”

That’s as much planning as went into the business and the annual concerts, he said. He’s never had a grand plan, no master scheme.

“If it seemed right, if it seemed easy to do, we did it,” he said. “And we’ve been successful.”

The success of a “small niche in a very large business” is due in part to experimenting with different ideas and concepts. This year, Western Jubilee created a daylong festival in June on the grounds for its elite mailing list, opening up a big room called the “Back 40” for acoustic performers.

It was a departure for the studio, because the cowboy artists weren’t there. Instead, local groups Grass it Up and The Haunted Windchimes played, as did Sons and Brothers. Flash Cadillac wrapped up the event.

The groups played on three different stages: under a tent outdoors, in the main theater and a small, intimate “unplugged” setting in the Back 40.

“We wanted to do a daylong event,” said O’Malley. “It went well, for the first year. We might do it again. We’ll see. We were impressed by the reaction to the acoustic set in the Back 40. I thought people might go there and talk while they were playing. But it was like being in church, the audience was really quiet, and very involved.”

The Back 40 is something O’Malley is interested in developing. He wants to keep the arts focus, but is open to ideas.

“If something feels right, then we want to use it there,” he said. “We’ve had theater performances, and some other things, but we want to open it up, make it more usable, more often.”

O’Malley’s particular brand of success means he doesn’t have a concrete idea for the space.

“But I’m open to, you know, what might look right back there,” he said. “It’s as big as the main theater, and while there are a lot of spaces in town — this space is pretty unique.”