Chancey Williams didn’t set out to be a big-time country music star. The 41-year-old grew up on a ranch near Moorcroft, spending his early years checking cows and tossing hay to horses, taking his chances on the back of bucking broncs as he grew older.
But music was the thread that tied it all together.
Williams and some of his friends in Moorcroft put together a band in high school that continued in college. From there, his music career just “evolved,” Williams told Cowboy State Daily.
“I kind of chose this career on accident,” said the artist who has opened for the likes of Merle Haggard and Toby Keith. “I probably know more about ranching and rodeo than I do about music.”
In April, this one-time small-town rancher and his bandmates will make their debut on country music’s biggest stage, performing at the Grand Ole Opry on April 22.
Chancey Knows Rodeo
While some country artists sing about rodeo, Williams has plenty of first-hand experience.
As a saddle bronc rider, Williams competed in the National High School Finals Rodeo and College National Finals, and won two rounds at Cheyenne Frontier Days.
In fact, several of his more popular releases speak to the rodeo lifestyle.
“Our first song that got a lot of streaming and everybody knows is ‘Rodeo Cold Beer,’” he said. “It also talks about Moorcroft and Crook County.
“And then ‘The World Needs More Cowboys’ has been really good for us throughout the state,” he added about the song that he and his producer, Trent Willmon, wrote around the University of Wyoming’s motto.
Williams is probably one of the most well-educated singers on the country music circuit with two associate degrees, a bachelor’s degree and a master’s. But he said his favorite years of post-high school education were spent at Casper College, where he was on the rodeo team from 2000-2003.
“Out of my full seven years of going to college, my three at Casper were my favorite,” said Williams. “The rodeo team was awesome, rodeo coach Tom Parker was great. Like, I just really enjoyed Casper College. Both my parents went there. It’s got a special place in my heart for sure.”
Williams accrued two associate degrees during his time at Casper – but after his third year, he was offered a rodeo scholarship to the University of Wyoming, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
“As soon as I graduated, at the time so many of my other band members were still in college, so I decided to go to grad school,” said Williams, “and I got a master’s in Public Administration. I just really liked college.”
But Williams said he’s received real-life education in the music business over the last 20 years.
“I went to Nashville to do an internship, finished my master’s degree and ended up interning for Toby Keith,” he said.
And although he majored in political science because he enjoyed it, “public administration is a lot like it,” Williams said, adding he has no immediate plans to use that degree.
“For now, I just like playing music,” he said.
Chancey Williams And The Younger Brothers Band
Back in high school, Williams and his friends had formed a country band they called “The Younger Brothers.”
“My older brother actually came up with that,” said Williams. “The four original members back in high school, we all had older brothers, and we were always the younger brothers. We thought that was cool, so we used that.”
As the band’s notoriety grew and became established in Nashville, Williams said there were only two of the original band members left.
“We had that band name through high school and college, and everybody knew it across the state, so we used it when I got back after my first album,” said Williams. “But it got down to where I was the only original band member left, and so we just started going by ‘Chancey Williams.’
“I mean, some of the other band members we have now were with us when we called ourselves The Younger Brothers Band, but I was like, well, let’s just shorten it up.”
Performing on the big stage at the Grand Ole Opry was always in the back of Williams’ mind as he played smaller venues in college and as a young adult.
“The Ryman (Auditorium) and the Opry, some of those dates are things you think of early in your career, like, ‘Hopefully, someday we’ll play the Grand Ole Opry or the Ryman Auditorium,’ and you don’t really think it would happen,” said Williams. “It’s the same as dreaming about winning the lottery. Everybody dreams about it, but usually, nobody really does.”
But as the band’s reputation grew and was more sought-after, the gigs became more high profile.
“Last year, we got to do Cheyenne Frontier Days with Dierks (Bentley),” Williams said. “We’ve played the Ryman (Auditorium in Nashville), we’re playing Billy Bob’s (in Fort Worth) this year, and CMA fest (in Nashville). I feel like every year, we’re like, ‘That was awesome. What’s next?’”
Of course, next is the band’s Opry debut on April 22, which Williams said he’s completely proud of because of how they got there.
“We know that nobody handed it to us,” he said. “We didn’t win a TV show or go viral on TikTok. We know that, like, all of our years of hard work is paying off now.”
And Williams said song selection is one of the things he’s working on.
“I think you get two (songs) on your debut, we haven’t really nailed down which two,” said Williams. “I want to do two that I wrote, so I kind of want to sift through which ones would fit well for the Opry, but it’s hard to pick – it’s like picking your favorite kid, I guess.”
The years of paying dues are finally paying off, Williams said.
“All those slick roads, flat tires and just hours spent on the roads, we were learning our craft,” said Williams. “And it’s really nice to be recognized by the Opry, that you have to get invited to play at. You know, there haven’t been that many Wyoming people play the Grand Ole Opry. It’s super, super, super humbling.”
‘One Of These Days’
Also next on Williams’ calendar is the debut of his newest album, “One of These Days,” which drops Friday. Of the 12 songs on the album, he wrote 11, one of which is titled “Land of the Buffalo.”
Williams said he wrote that song with his producer, Trent Willmon, about his beloved Powder River country and the overdevelopment of the West. He said he was inspired to write the song in part because of the television show “Yellowstone.”
“It always cracks me up, like the whole plot of Yellowstone is, they don’t want people moving into their ranch and developing it, but that’s exactly what’s making everybody move to Wyoming and Montana,” said Williams. “And I don’t blame people, we live in a beautiful state. Luckily, we have these tough winters, which keeps a lot of people out.”
Williams said the point of “Land of the Buffalo” is the mentality of hardy Wyoming folks who like their state the way it is.
“And just seeing everything develop, you know, it’s like, bury me in this ground before it gets paved over, before they cut all the trees down and pave over it,” he said.
Williams said he thinks Wyoming fans will appreciate that song in particular.
”It talks about the Powder River,” he said, “and it’s kind of why I put it out there. It means a lot to people that have grown up and lived in Wyoming.”
Moorcroft Is Home
Although he has a house in Laramie and spends at least a week every month in Nashville, Williams said he still calls Moorcroft home.
“I try to get home in the summer as much as I can when we’re not touring, which seems like it’s getting less and less just because we’re so busy playing,” said Williams. “But I always have to get home to Moorcroft because it keeps me grounded.
“You know, we still run a ranch. So it’s just life as usual up there. You wake up early, and I go help my brother and my parents with just regular ranch stuff, which is awesome to keep your head right.”
But Williams said there’s no way to top the thrill of standing on a stage and hearing fans sing along to lyrics he wrote.
“We never really knew how far it would take us, but we enjoyed doing it,” said Williams. “And each year, it just keeps getting bigger and bigger, and it keeps snowballing.”
As a proud Wyomingite, Williams said he and his bandmates are honored to represent the Cowboy State in Tennessee.
“We’re Wyoming ranch kids,” he said. “This is what we sing about. We know where we come from, we know the fans that come to our shows, we know what type of stuff they want to listen to.”