Photo by Don Nelson
Lauralee Northcott is compiling a book of songs, stories and recipes.

Band founder Lauralee Northcott will keep busy performing, writing and creating art

By Don Nelson

It’s been a harmonious 17 years for the Methow Valley’s nationally renowned Western music trio, the Horse Crazy Cowgirl Band.

Now Lauralee Northcott, a Horse Crazy Cowgirl Band founder and only original member left, says it’s time to compose another musical chapter in her life.

“I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish” with the Horse Crazy Cowgirl Band, Northcott said in her Winthrop home last week.

Those accomplishments include six albums with various iterations of the band; Group of the Year accolades from the Western Music Association (WMA) in 2015; WMA Harmony Trio of the Year in 2009 and 2011; and WMA Best Harmony Group in 2014. The group’s most-recent album, “All I Need,” was ranked at the top of the Western music listening charts in 2015.

“We did a lot and had a lot of fun,” Northcott said. That included fairly constant travel around the country. “I don’t want to be on the road all the time,” she said. The band was in Branson, Missouri, for 21 shows in October.

“At some point, you just say ‘that’s that,’” Northcott said.

Northcott isn’t done with music. Horse Crazy has engagements scheduled through March 2017, then band members Jennifer Epps and Judy Coder (who live in Ellensburg) will continue as a duo called the Notable Exceptions (they won the 2015 WMA Harmony Duo of the Year award).

“We are all moving forward,” Northcott said. Northcott will continue to make solo appearances, but will be putting much of her energy into a book she’s writing that combines the various, and varied, elements of her life.

“What I want to do now is perform as a soloist and have fun in the community,” she said.

Cowboy culture

All of this is consistent with Northcott’s journey on the “cowboy culture trail” – the world of authentic cowboy cultural literature, art and entertainment.

She was a wilderness guide (and trail cook) for 33 years until 2014, when the physical demands of the work became too much. Northcott also taught for 34 years, most of that time in the Methow Valley School District. And she was one of the collaborators in producing the annual Dollar Watch Cowboy Jamboree, a locally popular Western music and poetry fest, for 11 years.

In addition to her music and writing, Northcott will also continue pursuing her passion for art. Northcott makes intricate, labor-intensive baskets woven from pine needles (which she collects locally) and decorated with all kinds of objects, many of them serendipitously discovered. The baskets are sold at several locations in the valley. She has some commissions, and a few collectors who are interested in her new works. Northcott also has a personal collection of favorites in her home.

The book she is writing will be a unique pastiche of original songs (including a CD, to be recorded by Northcott in a studio and included with the book), poetry, stories and Dutch oven cooking recipes from her years on the trails. She doesn’t have a publication date set yet, other than “when it’s ready.” The various elements are outlined on note cards pinned to a wall in her office.

Natural entertainer

Northcott was raised in Alaska. The entertainment inclination came naturally. Her mother was a vaudevillian and her father a piano player, and Northcott began performing when she was 8. (Her mother, who is 102, still plays in a ukulele band in southern California.)

Northcott earned a music degree at Western Washington University (where she also dabbled in musical theater) before landing her first job in Pateros, circa 1975.

Northcott, Virginia Bennett and Emele Clothier started the Horse Crazy Cowgirl Band in 1999. Northcott has been the band’s leader, bass player and business manager. Other members of the band have included Kristyn Harris and Nadine Van Hees.

Music is still Northcott’s creative motivator, and live performance is a necessary part of that. “I love the opportunity to be surrounded by fabulous harmony, and to share the experience with the audience … to let them in on the fun,” she said.

Northcott doesn’t see the Horse Country Cowgirl Band being revived after next March, but she intends to stay busy in creative ways. “I think I’m going to travel light,” she said. “There are so many pasts in your life … you have to develop as much of yourself as you can.”

“Mountain Staircases”

By Lauralee Northcott

We were hiking on the Crest,
punchin’ post holes through the snow.
When my pardner lost her footing,
slid down the glacier’s floe.

She made it out okay
and we hiked another ten.
It was at the “Devil’s Staircase”
our day came to its end.

The night was cold and rainy,
the wind near picked us off the ground.
Dawn broke we saw the descent,
a darkened trail of down.

Our eyes adjusted to the dim,
heightened senses in our walk.
We were wary of this Devil’s Stair,
And not inclined to talk.

Well, just across the valley,
is another mountain span.
In the Sawtooth Peaks that rim,
the big blue “Lake Chelan”.

Coming out of Merchant’s Basin,
riding over Martin way.
There is a rocky path,
You can get to in a day.

It’s called the “Angel’s Staircase”,
a narrow strip upon the top.
With broad & glowing vistas.
your heart will nearly stop,

You feel as though you’ve touched the angels,
A fleeting precious time.
Little thought to possible disaster,
You’re just reaching for the climb.

Why is one staircase trouble,
and one a heavenly throne?
After all staircases go both ways.
This is widely known.

I wonder if the Devil’s Staircase,
helps us learn the ways of dark.
Maybe the Angel’s gift,
renews internal spark.

I DO know we must learn to walk,
into the somber night.
And also pause to bathe,
in moments of golden light.

My friends fear not the shadows,
nor dim and scary fate.
It’s all a bold adventure,
your whole being will participate.

So, wherever to go in the mountains,
remember what I’ve said.
Enjoy the trek you’ve chosen,
and remember to  lift you head!