A seventh-generation Coloradan, Jon Chandler’s passion for music sparked at an early age while listening to The Beatles, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan.
“Music is something I’ve always wanted to do for as long as I can remember,” recalled Chandler, 65, a multiple award-winner who lives in Denver. “I just always wanted to be a musician.”
He was particularly inspired by his late great-grandfather, Morgan Patterson, who was considered a legendary figure in Colorado. Patterson was a coal miner, bear hunter and a friend of Buffalo Bill — and a talented fiddler who performed all over southern Colorado. “When my great-grandfather was in his late 80s — when I was just born — he did a little wax record of his fiddling,” Chandler said. “His fiddling was whimsical and I was always enamored by the fact that he could perform on stage — and people loved his music.”
Chandler’s own musical pursuits began in the fourth grade playing the trumpet with his school band.
“In high school I started singing, and in college I was involved with several bands, duos and trios,” he said. “It just blossomed from there.”
Over the years, Chandler has earned a reputation for knowing the American West. He conveys this knowledge with his combination of songs, stories and readings from his novels and nonfiction works, which ultimately serve to infuse audiences with his unique brand of Americana. To that end, Chandler has won numerous awards and was named the Best Living Western Musician by True West magazine in 2009.
He is also a two-time winner of the Western Writers of America’s prestigious Spur Award for best song. The first he received in 2009 for “Linwood,” a fictional look at the last hours of the notorious gunman Doc Holliday’s life. The second award he received in 2012 for “Morning Star Moon,” which is Chandler’s observation of Wyoming’s iconic Hole in the Wall country.
“As far as my music goes, it’s very literary in the way that I approach things,” Chandler explained. “Most of my original material is story songs. The thing they all have in common is the American West in some way, shape or form.”
Chandler, as gifted a solo performer as he is with his band, shares his music during two events, including one in eastern Ventura County. The first, on April 21, will take place at the Rancho Camulos Museum, a national historic landmark located in Piru. Chandler will perform inside a quaint 1930s school house for this performance, which is also a fundraiser for the museum. To suit the setting, Chandler’s repertoire will concentrate on 19th-century tunes.
The novel Ramona was, of course, set in the Rancho. But the legacy of the late author and Native American rights activist Helen Hunt Jackson looms large in Colorado as well. Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, Jackson lived in Colorado Springs during the last 10 years of her life and was buried there in 1885. Chandler feels a kinship with the work and the writer.
“It was a major novel which introduced America to the California lifestyle,” he said. “I grew up knowing about her through her work as a literary figure in Colorado, and it’s serendipitous that I have the chance to perform in California at the place where she set her greatest novel, Ramona.”
Chandler will also perform at the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival, which is associated with his performance at the Rancho Camulos Museum. The Cowboy Festival takes place April 19-23 in Old Town Newhall. The four-day event will feature four stages of performers who will play folk, bluegrass and more in an outdoor setting. Fittingly, Chandler will perform at the William S. Hart Park on April 22-23.
“I hope to give audiences a little peek into my look at the Old West,” Chandler said. “I try to convey my perception of the American West, both historically and contemporarily. I’m very proud of my songs and I hope the audiences enjoy what I convey from a historical perspective.”
Jon Chandler performs April 21 at the Cowboy Festival Luncheon at Rancho Camulos Museum, 5164 E. Telegraph Road, Piru. For schedule, tickets and more information, call 521-1501 or visit http://ranchocamulos.org. For more on Jon Chandler, visit www.jonchandler.com.