Friday, August 26, 2016

Mama Knows Best

To most teenagers, the idea of spending more time with mom than is required is a fate worse than homework. But for Tess, Grayden, Mickenzie and Skyler, they couldn’t have imagined doing anything else growing up.

For the past 15 years, the siblings have performed with their mother, Toni, as Mama’s Wranglers. The gang is currently delighting audiences with their charming brand of country, pop and folk music at downtown Henderson’s Firelight Barn Dinner Theater on historic Water Street.

“It all started when the first Wrangler came along,” said Toni, who taught piano in Sandy, Utah, for nearly two decades as a way of making ends meet. “They would sit at my feet during lessons, absorbing the music.”

She taught her children to play music at young ages. Her son Grayden for example learned to tickle the ivories at 4. By 6, he could play the violin. By 10, he was strumming a guitar. When the kids outgrew her musical expertise, Toni took them to a more experienced instructor who also taught the children to sing in three-part harmonies.

“They came home from their lesson one day excited to show me what they had learned,” she said. “I didn’t even know they could sing.”

Her children’s overwhelming talent was becoming more apparent by the week, and it wasn’t long before Toni hatched the idea of Mama’s Wranglers. “I quickly realized we had something we could share with the world,” she said.

The family band performed around the Salt Lake City area for a few years before setting out on the road. The gang sang and danced their way across 49 states (Hawaii has yet to be crossed off the list, but it’s in the works), Canada and parts of Europe. They eventually signed a deal to perform regularly at resorts in Arizona and Southern California, prompting them to pack up and move to Las Vegas.

21-year-old Mickinzie, who sings, dances and plays the fiddle, mandolin and drums in the band, said the experience has truly shaped her as a person for the better. “My favorite part about performing with my family is traveling and meeting new people,” she said. “It’s what we love to do.”

Looking for a more permanent gig in their new home of Las Vegas, Toni grew frustrated at the lack of family friendly venues. Because of their young ages, the children were not allowed to perform in casino lounges. That’s when Mama had her next big idea.

Firelight Barn Dinner Theater opened in May. The calendar of events is already filled with family oriented festivities such as hoedowns, line dancing lessons and seasonal holiday celebrations. Contributing to the fabric of their adopted community and providing wholesome entertainment options have been priorities for the family from the get-go.

“We want the audience to come out and have a good time,” Grayden said. “We want them to feel like they’re part of the family.”

That attitude is made very clear upon entering the venue. Guests are greeted with welcoming smiles, a “Howdy!” or two, and the mouth-watering smells of barbeque. Guests enjoy the catered meals for about a half hour before the show begins.

The family breezes through fun renditions of country standards, folk tunes and
even an AC/DC number. There’s plenty of fun costume changes, dancing and joking around with the audience. By the end of each show, there’s not a person in the building who isn’t singing along.

Grayden said they owe the tightly knit performance style to more than a decade of working together.

“We all get along so well. This wouldn’t work if we didn’t,” he said. “Even if an error happens on stage, we’re able to play off it, and it actually makes for a more interesting show.”

While it is clear they all love to perform, Toni said it all comes back to the community. “For us, it’s not about the applause,” she said. “It’s about seeing the smiles on the audience’s faces.”

For more information on Mama’s Wranglers, to see a calendar of upcoming events and to reserve your show tickets, visit the Firelight Barn Dinner Theater website.

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