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ProFile: Austin Wahlert
Written by: Lily Landreth< Back to Articles
‘Long live cowboys, may the legacy never fade, ‘cause honor is his code, it’s all he’s ever known and he’d die just to keep it that way. Throwing caution to the wind for the life he defends ‘cause he knows that’s what’s right. So long live cowboys, from now till the end of time!’
The chorus to Austin Wahlert’s song, “Long Live Cowboys”, co-written with Baxter Black, reverberates with the 25-year-old singer songwriter and former bull rider from Gill, Colo. So do the words to Austin’s song “Las Vegas Gold”, which he is singing at the opening of the tenth round of the 2014 WNFR. Austin’s dream from childhood was to rodeo, but at age 23, nearly 25 broken bones from rodeo’s most dangerous sport, made him face the fact that his rodeo career was over. Yet the death of one dream led to the prelude of another. Austin had a talent for songwriting, and a guitar waiting to sing at his fingertips. He had written his first song when he was 16, and several years later put together a demo CD.
Austin grew up on a 3,000 acre cattle ranch in northern Colorado with his brother and sister, learning rodeo from his parents and from being a competitor. His dad, Scot Wahlert, was the president of the Mountain States ProRodeo Circuit, and his mom, Chelle Wahlert, was the director of the WPRA. Austin decided that if he couldn’t compete in the sport, then he was going to sing about it and the western way of life.
He learned to play guitar from his grandpa, Robert Gulvas, spending his afternoons after school soaking in everything he could about music. “Austin has always been very self motivated, and he feels there’s always something he can learn from others,” says his mom, Chelle. Following graduation from Eaton High School, Austin attended Odessa College on a full-ride scholarship, and his guitar took a backseat to his bull rope. However, he would play in the parking lot after rodeos, then began performing in bars and other venues to earn money. During his freshman year of college, Austin broke his back riding a bull and took a year off, which he used to write music while studying for his degree in business and marketing. After returning to rodeo and breaking his back a second time, Austin knew his competition days were at an end.
Yet again, rodeo steered Austin toward music. His travels around the country for bull riding introduced him to gifted songwriters like David Lee and Wynn Varble, who quickly recognized Austin’s talent. Several of Austin’s music friends encouraged him to call Bruce Bouton, a steel guitarist who has played for Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris, Garth Brooks, and Reba McEntire, among other notable artists. Despite the declarations that Austin would likely never reach Bouton on the phone, he called anyway, and caught the musician while he waited for a flight. “It was one of those God things,” says Austin. “Bruce told me to send him some of my songs, called me back after hearing the first two, and said we’d meet when he got back from touring in Europe.” That was the beginning of many trips to Nashville, which opened Austin up to a world of singers, songwriters, musicians, publishers, and record labels. Guitar legends like Bob Seger and Jim “Moose” Brown, who wrote “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere” for Jimmy Buffett, sat in on several of Austin’s recording sessions and even played with him. “I was just like a young cowboy that gets to rodeo with Ty Murray for a week,” Austin describes. “It changed my career.”
Austin released his first album, Austin Wahlert, in 2011, and a second, Dirt Road Blues, in 2013. He is now working on a third album which should come out in late 2015. “For the songwriting, it takes about a year, while I work on the message of my album. When I’m playing these songs thousands of times for concerts, I want lyrics that help a person get through something in life, or celebrate something. There’s a lot of music out there that you can’t sink your teeth into, and we’ve lost any deeper meaning in our songs.” “The Day She Went to Heaven” is particularly special to Austin, written in honor of his late mother-in-law, and another favorite is “Las Vegas Gold”. The song is inspired by Chris LeDoux’s music, and Austin fantasized about it replacing Elvis’s “Viva Las Vegas” to kick off the tenth round of the WNFR. On December 13, two and a half years to the day he wrote the song, he will be singing it on the arena floor of the WNFR.
As an independent artist, Austin is his own manager, and business and marketing agent. This has been one of his best years as a professional musician, touring from late April until the third week of August. He flies to Nashville every six weeks to record and write, but spends every other moment with his wife, Justine, and their two-year-old daughter, Reagan. Reagan was born with Down Syndrome and had to have open heart surgery when she was three months old. She pulled through and is an avid fan of her dad’s music. She’ll leave anything she’s doing to listen to Austin play when he brings out his guitar, with ‘music’ being one of the first words she learned in sign language. Justine was a high school and middle school art teacher until Reagan was born, and now continues teaching at home with Reagan, coaching her in sign language and doing three hours of therapy every day. Justine recently took up running and ran the 26.5 mile Denver Marathon in October.
Ever looking to advance his music, Austin is taking a music theory class, previously learning everything by ear. “I never want to be complacent,” he says. “To this day, I can pull into play at a rodeo, close my eyes, and I could be there riding bulls. I still miss it, but music was a dream always burning at the back of my mind too. Singing at the tenth round of the Finals is great, yet I still have so many things to learn. I keep setting new goals, and I’m always working to be better than I was yesterday.”