Dinner Guest: Cowboy and Songwriter Michael Moon

Alice Garbarini Hurley | You and your wife, Dawn Moon, met working at The Home Ranch, right? And now, after 23 years of marriage, you collaborated on music for the Robert Redford/Jane Fonda Netflix movie “Our Souls at Night,” released in September. What a long and lucky ride.
Michael Moon | Yes. In the beginning, I was a wrangler/horseshoer/musician at The Home Ranch in Clark, Colorado and Dawn worked in childcare and in the dining room. We left the ranch for 18 years to work on cattle ranches in Colorado, Montana and New Mexico and came back 2½ years ago. We have four children now – three boys and one girl, ages 12 to 20.

And you and Dawn perform together at the property?
We play as a duo one night a week for cocktail hour before dinner. We play mostly original songs, western folk music that reflects our life living on ranches, especially in the mountains, and raising a family. Many of the songs are on our three CDs, “Live at the Murphy Larson Place,” “Land of the Columbine” and “Place of Our Own.” During the summer season, I also lead a band at the weekly barn dance, and Dawn usually joins our singalong around the campfire once a week. We have a songbook with everything from “Don’t Fence Me In” to “Chicken Fried,” singers from John Denver to John Prine.

Is that how you were tapped for the romantic movie that reunites the two megastars 50 years after they played New York newlyweds in “Barefoot in the Park”?
Veteran film editor John F. Lyons edited the movie, and he and his family have been regular guests at The Home Ranch for more than 10 years. He asked if he could use our music for the soundtrack.

Is that how you were tapped for the romantic movie that reunites the two megastars 50 years after they played New York newlyweds in “Barefoot in the Park”?
Veteran film editor John F. Lyons edited the movie, and he and his family have been regular guests at The Home Ranch for more than 10 years. He asked if he could use our music for the soundtrack.

Did you meet the movie crew?
No, all our meetings were over the phone or via email. They used recordings from our CDs. “Not So Lonely Now” was recorded on home studio equipment in Clark 24 years ago. The other, “April Prayer,” was recorded in a small studio in Malta, Montana. They are very much background music and you might not notice them if you don’t know where to listen, but it’s easy to spot our names in the credits!

I just went on Spotify, searched for the movie and added the two beautiful songs to my favorites playlist. Has Spotify changed your life as a musician?
Spotify is great from the aspect of having people hear your music and get it out there. It is not so great from the aspect of financial return. As an independent artist, there is almost no return. Money is not the goal, but it would be nice to make enough to afford to record again occasionally.

Where did you live as a boy and when did you first pick up an instrument?
I grew up outside of Mariposa, California, in the foothills of the Sierras, just outside Yosemite National Park. I started piano when I was 5, banjo at 12 and guitar around 14. I still play banjo and piano, but mostly guitar.

How long have you been writing songs?
I wrote my first song when I was 6 or 7. I think it was a rip-off of an old gospel tune, but got more serious about it in my late teens, after I started playing guitar. Dawn sings one of my high school songs, “Come Along with Me,” on our most recent recording called “A Place of Our Own.” I wrote it when I was 17, but had not sung it in many years. Dawn liked it and it was resurrected.

How about Dawn? What’s her background as a singer?
Dawn has been singing her entire life – in church, of course, but also in multiple choirs through high school in Lakewood, Ohio, and in college.

Do you and your family live near The Home Ranch?
We live just across the Elk River, a 4-minute drive, but closer as the crow flies. I need to be close by to care for the livestock. I cross-country ski to work when the river is frozen over in the winter.

What’s your job at the ranch, in addition to singing?
As operations manager, I take care of the land, so it takes care of the horses, so they can take care of the guests. That is the end goal. I supervise fencing and pasture management, irrigation, the hay operation, trail maintenance, corrals and other facilities. We have over 30 k ( 18.6 miles ) of groomed cross-country ski trails and unlimited backcountry skiing, plus snowshoeing and sledding. I also help drive the snowcat to groom the ski trails.

And in the barn?
I oversee worming, vaccinating, horseshoeing (a farrier comes twice a week all summer) and other vet work. Our vet consults and comes to the ranch as needed. I am constantly on the lookout to buy new horses and find homes for those that don’t fit our program. I have seven to eight wranglers in the summer and one wrangler/ranch hand in the winter. We keep busy.

How many horses are we talking about?
More than 75. I’m a lifelong horseman and ride and train all year. We take pride in having great horses for every level of rider. It is a special horse that makes it here. They all must be stable and trustworthy, but still be able to be ridden independently. We often have people attempt to buy them, but I won’t sell. Guests get to help take care of them in winter on daily sleigh rides when we take a load of hay out to feed the horses.

Has the décor at The Home Ranch changed a lot over the years?
There’s a nice balance between change and continuity here. I’m not very good in the décor department, but outside, we added a new wrangler tack room, feed and vet room, greenhouse, large garden and outdoor farm kitchen. We’re always searching for ways to improve our guests’ stay, but keep what works. Brooks Bradbury, the general manager, has a lifetime of experience in that area. And Home Ranch co-founder Ann Stranahan has stuck with what she wanted ever since the property opened in the late 1970s. She didn’t want hokey frontier-town effects, but insisted on authenticity.

How did Ann do that?
For starters, she worked with architect Bob McHugh to model our original homestead after an old one just down the road from the Clark Store. It’s an iconic American house once lived in by a legendary woman, the Shepherdess of the Elk. Ann was set on ranch décor that would be true to the time; she figured families coming West would only have brought furniture from home that fit in a covered wagon – an Early American bureau, chest or table, that kind of thing.

How much does it cost to stay in rooms like the Baby Doe or Lonesome Cow?
In winter, those rooms are each $855 per night. In summer, Baby Doe is $1,325 and Lonesome Cow is $1,256 nightly. We do have minimum stays: 3, 4 or 7 nights in summer, depending on the month, and 2 nights in winter. For Christmas and New Year’s weeks, the minimum stay is 7 nights.

Can you share names of celebrities who have visited The Home Ranch? How about Robert Redford?
We do occasionally have well-known people at the ranch, but are not at liberty to share their names, to protect guest privacy.


Your top cool drink at The Home Ranch?

Your favorite hot drink there?

Family dinner you love at home?

Treats you can’t resist at the ranch?
Douglas’s scones.

Movie you could watch again and again?
“Lonesome Dove.”

Favorite film soundtrack?

Top musician?
Ian Tyson, John Coltrane, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Corb Lund, Kate Wolf – not a fair question.

Music teacher who inspired you?
My mom.

Work uniform?
Jeans, belt and knife, riding boots, snap-button shirt, Wyoming Traders vest.

Your brand and color of jeans?
Levi’s 501 Shrink-To-Fit, indigo denim.

Hondo Boots.

Warmest jacket?
Wool Ranch Coat from Wyoming Traders.

Place to buy clothing?
Online, secondhand store, wherever.

Best time to ride a horse?
Early fall, daybreak.

iPhone 7 or 8?
Kyocera DuraForce Pro – cowboy-proof.

Your dream room/sweet spot at The Home Ranch?

Your go-to horse at the ranch?
I ride them till I like them, then give them to someone else to ride. Really enjoy Gilly, Guapo, Nickel right now.

Dream vacation?
Riding a horse along the Silk Road, or Ireland, or Spain, or Greece or…

Secret to a happy marriage?
Never even consider the alternative/Love is a verb, keep loving.

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