“Yellowstone” references were sprinkled throughout this weekend’s 62nd annual Western Heritage Awards in Oklahoma City, the preeminent celebration of all things cowboy.
The television series' fiery character Beth Dutton “is the tornado and I’m the trailer park,” joked Mo Brings Plenty, emcee for the 2023 awards ceremony. Plenty plays the character of Mo on the modern western “Yellowstone,” and his tongue-in-cheek comment was heartily applauded by the audience at this year’s awards show at the National Museum of the Cowboy in Oklahoma City.
The annual event honors people who have made significant contributions to Western heritage in the fields of literature, music, television and film, and who share the great stories of the American West.
Woven throughout the 62nd annual celebration were reminders that Wyoming is one of the last best places for the cowboy way of life – from award winners to all-star presenters (entertainer Dan Miller from Cody and “Longmire” author Craig Johnson from Ucross), to the induction of “Longmire” actor Lou Diamond Phillips to the Hall of Great Western Performers, Wyoming was front-and-center at the black-tie event.
From music to movies, nods to the Cowboy State were woven throughout the 140-minute ceremony.
“You Oughta See Wyoming” is the final track on the record that won the "Outstanding Traditional Western Music Album" award, written and recorded by Nashville artist and composer Micki Fuhrman.
Fuhrman said her album “Westbound” is her “love letter to Western music, written over the course of my whole lifetime.”
The night’s winning documentary award went to “The Long Rider,” a movie that took 8 years and 12 countries to make.
Actors Robert Carradine and Grainger Hines presented the award to Filipe Leite, who documented his journey on horseback from Canada to his home country of Brazil – including what he called “epic” days spent in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.
“They said two years – but for eight years, I rode more than 16,000 miles across 12 nations, from Alaska to Argentina,” he said, adding the film records the people he met along the way and the struggles he overcame.
But Leite said his beloved horses were the bridge that crossed the cultural divide in every situation.
“The horse gave birth to the cowboy,” said Leite. “The horse helped write history … and what I learned at 3 miles an hour, 20 miles a day, is that the horse is a common language that brings people together.”
Honorees Tied to the Cowboy State
More than just winners, the Western Heritage Awards also honors those who have made their mark on cowboy culture, exemplifying the spirit of the American West.
This year, country stars Brooks and Dunn presented beer magnate and philanthropist Pete Coors with the 2023 Western Visionary Award, an honor that has only ever been bestowed on two people – in 2018 to Philip Anschutz and 2022 to Wyoming philanthropist Foster Friess.
But for fans of the “Longmire” books and television show, created by Wyoming author Craig Johnson and set in fictional Absaroka County (aka Buffalo, Wyoming), the night’s spotlight shone on actor Lou Diamond Phillips, who portrays Sheriff Longmire’s best friend Henry Standing Bear in the popular television show.
Johnson introduced Phillips as this year’s inductee into the 2023 Hall of Great Western Performers, and Phillips was gracious – and playful – in his acceptance speech.
“I have one thing to say to that (introduction by Johnson),” said Phillips as he stood at the podium. “’It is a beautiful day at the Red Pony and continual soirée, this is Henry speaking.’”
His opening remarks – the line Phillips spoke whenever his character answered the telephone in nearly every episode of the popular “Longmire” series – drew applause and laughter from the crowd.
Phillips’ honor places him in high company with performers such as Kurt Russell, Barry Corbin (also a presenter at Saturday’s event, along with previous inductee Patrick Wayne), Tommy Lee Jones and Lee Marvin, as well as “Yellowstone” star Kevin Costner, who received the award in 2019.
Phillips has appeared in dozens of television and film productions portraying Native Americans and Hispanics, as well as his native Filipinos. But at Saturday’s ceremony, he spoke of his love for the classic American Western movies that his father, George, took him to as a young man.
“I was always watching these amazing performances and dreaming of the day when maybe I could do something like that,” said Phillips. “These are our morality tales, these are our knights in shining armor.”