Renaissance Cowgirl


A love of traditional Western music and horses gave Kristyn Harris the inspiration for a promising career.

Kristyn Harris finds inspiration in horses like her Mustang, Velvet. Photo by Ross Hecox

Kristyn Harris may be the antithesis of a typical teenager. For starters, she prefers the music of singing cowboy Gene Autry over that of Justin Bieber. Whether she was born in the wrong era or just has exceptionally good taste is a matter of opinion. What is certain is that she is teetering on the verge of a promising career in Western music.

In February, 18-year-old Harris performed at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. The prestigious event is a Mecca for traditional Western musicians and poets, and a selection committee chooses from a host of applications each year for the entertainment lineup. It’s no small accomplishment to be featured during the gathering, something Harris doesn’t take lightly. Having her second CD, Let Me Ride, released there was icing on the cake.

“I was really excited to be at Elko,” she says. “Western music speaks of all the things that I love. It makes me feel good when I listen to it and play it. And I like what it’s about.”

She joined the likes of previous winners Brenn Hill, Juni Fisher and The Quebe Sisters Band when she was presented the 2012 Western Music Association Crescendo Award. Harris also won the 2012 WMA’s Female Yodeling Champion, 2011 WMA Janet McBride Yodeling Award and 2011 Kamloops Cowboy Festival Rising Star Award.

Although Harris is focused on her music, it was her love of horses that first led her to discover the old Western movies that inspired it.

“I had horses and was into the Western lifestyle, and I had a friend who introduced me to Roy Rogers and Gene Autry movies,” says the McKinney, Texas, teenager. “I got into the music because I liked horses and everything Western.”

At 14, she borrowed a guitar, bought an instructional book, and started teaching herself to play and sing. Her father, Mike Harris, says he remembers her dedication to her craft.

“She would lock herself in her room and practice her music for hours every day,” he says.

“I’m pretty much self-taught,” Harris says. “I have watched and learned from some other musicians, but I have not had much formal training. I just really wanted to do it. It was a challenge to get better. And I had a book that showed how to play chords for certain cowboy songs—the ones I’d heard in the movies. As I was learning the chords, I started singing and discovered I liked it.”

As a guitarist’s calluses developed on her fingers and a determination to perform built in her mind, she worked up the courage to go to an open-mike event near her home and sing for the first time in public.

“Someone in the audience heard me yodeling and told me I should go to the Cowtown Opry, which is a nonprofit organization that performs Western music in the Fort Worth Stockyards,” Harris says. “I went there and met other musicians that inspired me. I learned more about the guitar, and also got more comfortable with singing on stage.”

The cordial atmosphere and informality of the Cowtown Opry encouraged Harris to pursue her passion.

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