It took Riders in the Sky 29 years to get to Clayton; but during their 5,264th show last Friday night, they took the town by storm. These four fabulous western singers, yodelers, and musicians—and proud promulgators of The Cowboy Way—kicked off the Clayton Center Auditorium & Conference Center’s 2006-07 performing-arts series with a bang—a big bang—thanks to their eclectic song selection and superlative singing and musicianship, which earned an exuberant and prolonged standing ovation at the end of the concert. The group’s running comic commentary—usually self-deprecating, but always on-target—also was a great source of amusement to the capacity crowd.

During their warmly received Oct. 25th performance, Riders in the Sky performed a choice selection from the Singing Cowboy section of the American Songbook, plus a couple of surprises, such as “Surfin’ USA” by the Beach Boys. Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Rex Allen, and Tex Ritter combined could not have done it better.

Highlights of the first half of the evening included: “That’s How the Yodel Was Born,” with Ranger Doug (Idol of American Youth) warming up his yodel for yoeman’s service later in the evening; a knee-slapping parody of the theme from “Bonanza,” with the irrepressible Too Slim (“a Righteous Tater”) slapping out a rhythm on an antique upright bass and cutting the fool most hilariously; a riveting rendition of “Cool Water,” with poignant vocal and violin solos by Woody Paul (King of the Cowboy Fiddlers); a jaunty accordion solo on “Bye Bye Blackbird” (instrumental) by Joey (the CowPolka King), followed by a plaintive vocal on “Autumn on the Trail” by the sultan of the stomach Steinway; full-tilt versions of “Hoop de Doo” and the theme from “Rawhide”; and Too Slim’s uproarious rendering of “Surfin’ USA.”

Second-half highlights included: Ranger Doug’s epic yodel on “Back in the Saddle Again”; Too Slim’s channeling the late, great Johnny Cash in “I’ve Been Everywhere”; Woody Paul’s absolutely exquisite vocal and violin performance of “In the Arms of My Love”; a gritty version of “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” with Too Slim singing lead; and high-octane versions of “Orange Blossom Special” (instrumental) and “Happy Trails to You,” with heavenly harmonies from Riders in the Sky.

By the time Riders in the Sky stepped in front of the microphones for their haunting acoustic version of “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” these four veteran performers had the Clayton crowd in the palms of their hands. They could have played and sung all night—and a little bit longer.

Then, shortly after the show, Riders in the Sky moseyed out into the lobby to greet their fans and sign autographs. The only disappointment of the evening was, that the group did not bring a mountain of CDs, books, T-shirts, and other merchandise to satisfy the hunger for all things Riders in the Sky that they created during the concert.

The Clayton Center Auditorium & Conference Center: Riders in the Sky: [inactive 7/10]. Singing Cowboys: [inactive 5/08].