Alan Kirk Wobbeking is a recognizable character. Even for someone completely unfamiliar with the man, his blue-collar, affable personality radiates from him without the need of a single word — though, of course, he has plenty of those too. Just as his demeanor speaks, so does his attire: a classic, cowboy hat matched with an appropriately rustic, button-up work shirt tucked into denim jeans supported by a typically ornate, rancher-style belt buckle rounded off in cowboy boots — a uniform surely recognizable to many workers in this corridor of the country.
Wobbeking is the every-man’s man; an archetype and persona so inextricably linked to the tradition of country, rock, blues and/or any combination of the three, that even despite the fact his repertoire consists of traditional staples of these genres he fully embodies their character’s every day struggles to a staggeringly candid degree. That’s not to say he doesn’t inject himself into his performances, and one could even mistake his rambling rendition of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” as a loving homage to his newfound home in Idaho instead of the pastoral plains of Appalachia. Though these songs are not Wobbeking’s own he certainly has made them his; having lived in them for the greater part of his life, imposing the simple and sometimes difficult lessons taught in the proletariat poetry of American music icons like Chuck Berry as well those whose works have been lost to time as popular music has rapidly evolved over the past half-century onto his own life. It’s in those lesser known pieces that one gets a better understanding of Wobbeking’s own story — the words aren’t his, but to perform these songs with such an intimate fervor clearly demonstrates a personal importance to him.
Intimacy is a hallmark of any of Wobbeking’s shows. He’s prone to sharing anecdotes in between songs with the audience, and given the right venue will even mosey amongst the crowd briefly mingling and dancing with those in attendance.
Wobbeking’s website offers a glimpse of the long road to his current standing as one of the Idaho-Wyoming area’s premier western singers and an abundance of seemingly innocuous tales that even better illuminate the man behind each song selection (audience suggestions obviously notwithstanding). The sparse, quaint, single-page website details Wobbeking’s early days born and raised on the family farm in Dows, Iowa, replete with memories of his first time singing (“Winchester Cathedral” in the back of the car) to an endearingly twee tale of a fourth grade Wobbeking serenading his sixth grade girlfriend with Berry’s “My Ding-A-Ling” through the phone. But it wasn’t until 2011 while living in Colorado that Wobbeking would realize the sheer volume of the catalogue of songs he had committed to memory. From there his journey would take him from retirement homes throughout the region to the third round of The X Factor in 2012 before taking up a Friday night residency at Amangani in Jackson with miscellaneous performances scattered on both sides of the state border.
The passion Wobbeking has for music is unquestionable and it can be hard differentiating the man from the music. His on-stage persona is so fully realized and consistent with the stories he sings that it actually does beget a sole, lingering question, not of authenticity, but of identity: Who is this man who almost incarnates the very words he sings, while not having authored a single one? The answer is undoubtedly complicated, but given his penchant for the forthright and simple, perhaps the most satisfying answer is still found in the heart of that farmboy from Iowa.