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Roy Rogers

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  • Born: Cincinnati, OH
  • Died: Apple Valley, CA
  • Years Active: 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s


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When Cincinnati-born Leonard Franklin Slye headed west in the spring of 1931, it was as a would-be musician, working jobs ranging from driving a gravel truck to picking fruit in California's Central Valley. In less than two years, he'd co-founded the greatest Western singing group of all time, the Sons of the Pioneers, and barely four years after that, he'd started a career as a movie star under the new name Roy Rogers. Ultimately he found great fame as a movie and TV cowboy and even founded a very successful chain of restaurants.

He was born in Cincinnati, OH, the son of Andrew and Mattie Womack Slye. The entire household was musical, and by the time he was a teenager, Len could play the guitar and the mandolin. Although he later took on the role of a cowboy before the public, the closest he got to riding the range was working the family farm they had in a small town outside of Cincinnati. By age 19, he'd headed out to California, where chance led him to enter an amateur singing contest on the radio, resulting in an offer to join the Rocky Mountaineers. There he made the acquaintance of Bob Nolan. They developed a harmonious friendship that worked well within the group for several months, until Nolan exited in frustration over their lack of success. His replacement was Tim Spencer, and eventually Slye, Spencer, and another singer named Slumber Nichols quit the Rocky Mountaineers in the spring of 1932 to form a trio of their own, which never quite came off. Slye decided to push on, joining Jack LeFevre & His Texas Outlaws.

In early 1933, he got Spencer and Nolan together to form what was then known as the Pioneer Trio. Their mix of singing and yodeling, coupled with their good spirits, won them a job on radio. Within a few weeks, they were developing a large following of their own on LeFevre's show, with their harmony singing eliciting lots of mail. A fourth member, fiddle player Hugh Farr, was added to firm up their sound early in 1934. The group's name was altered by accident -- on one broadcast the station's announcer introduced them as "The Sons of the Pioneers." The group sold large numbers of records from the very beginning, with the classic Nolan original "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" cut at their very first session. Two more new members, Lloyd Perryman and Hugh Farr's guitarist brother Karl, were added, and by the mid-'30s the sextet was one of the top-selling country acts, performing to sell-out audiences and sought by radio stations and sponsors eager to back them on the air.

During this period, Slye did occasional work as a movie extra and bit player in B-Westerns under the name Dick Weston at Republic Pictures, where the reigning king of Western movies was another singer, Gene Autry, whose records outsold even the Pioneers'. In 1938, Autry entered into a contractual dispute with Republic that resulted in his failure to report for his next movie. Republic, anticipating the dispute, had put out the word -- apparently more as a ploy than a real attempt at replacing their top male star -- that they were looking for a new leading actor for their Westerns. Slye tried sneaking onto the lot with a group of extras and was caught, but a sympathetic director permitted him to take a screen test. He tested extremely well and got the part. At the time, the Pioneers had just signed a contract with Columbia Pictures to appear in and play musical support to Charles Starrett in a series of B-Westerns, and he was forced to leave the group in order to sign his own contract at Republic.

A new name was required and "Roy Rogers" was selected, the "Rogers" coming from Will Rogers and "Roy" coming off of a list. He made his debut in Under Western Stars; not only did it introduce Rogers as a new star, but also his horse, Trigger. A long-term contract followed, and for the next 13 years, he was one of the studio's mainstays, rivaling and later surpassing Autry at the box office. By 1940, Rogers was successful enough to approach Republic with a request for a salary increase. The studio was notoriously reticent on such matters, and he was denied any raise. But in lieu of the request, he extracted a much more valuable concession -- the rights to the name Roy Rogers and all merchandising that went with it. The early '40s saw Rogers turn into a national institution. His Westerns became even more popular and accessible once they were taken out of the "historic" West of the 19th century and moved into the modern West, which allowed for more freedom in plotting and dialogue. With director Joseph Kane helming his movies, Rogers became the undisputed "King of the Cowboys" after Autry joined the U.S. Army Air Force in 1942. By 1944, however, the movies and records represented only a small part of the success that Rogers had achieved. The merchandising of Rogers memorabilia and other items -- not just toys, but cereals and electric ranges -- coupled with a syndicated radio show made him one of the most familiar figures in popular culture throughout the war years.

In 1944, with his first teaming with featured actress Dale Evans, the next major element in his screen success was in place. Their relationship was, at first, purely professional, but their chemistry on screen was undeniable, and Republic was soon pairing them up regularly. With the return of master action director William Witney from service in the war during 1945, Rogers' film career was poised for success for years to come, as Witney toughened up the Rogers movies and elevated their action sequences. All of this success, and the whirlwind of activity surrounding it, was negated by the death of Rogers' wife, Arline, from an embolism following the birth of their son, Roy Jr., on November 3, 1946. Rogers continued making movies and recording, along with his personal appearances and radio broadcast. In the course of their work together in pictures, he and Evans (who had already been designated "The Queen of the West" by Republic's publicity office) became ever closer. Finally, on December 31, 1947, the two were married. They made movies together for the remainder of the 1940s, and when the market for B-Westerns began to disappear with the advent of television, Rogers followed the lead of Western star William ("Hopalong Cassidy") Boyd and devised a television series of his own. The Roy Rogers Show, starring Rogers and Evans and co-starring Roy's Pioneers replacement, Pat Brady, went on the air on NBC in December of 1951, beginning a seven-year network run that introduced his work to yet another generation of fans.

His first solo recordings featured backup by Hugh and Karl Farr and Bob Nolan, and the complete Pioneers supported him in most of his recording sessions for the remainder of 1937 and 1938. Later on, however, Rogers was backed by Spade Cooley & His Buckle-Busters as well as various anonymous studio orchestras, although Karl Farr would turn up on his sessions as well into the 1940s. On record as a solo artist, Rogers was never as successful as the Pioneers or Autry, although he did have one promising early hit in 1938 with "Hi-Yo Silver," which reached number 13 on the charts. Even Rogers' sessions on his own recordings with the Sons of the Pioneers, however, little resembled his earlier work as a member of the Pioneers, for his was now the lead voice. And where Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer (the principal songwriters within the group) never strayed too far from some contact with the reality of the West, Rogers' music quickly took on the aura of more typical Hollywood Western songs, pleasant but not generally profound. His covers of songs such as "Don't Fence Me In" are probably the best remembered versions, thanks to his movies, and as songs like "San Fernando Valley" or "Home in Oklahoma" reveal, he had an extremely appealing tenor voice, not as memorable as Autry's voice but very pleasing to the ear nonetheless. Perhaps the most well-known of all Rogers' songs was one written by Evans and (originally) recorded by them together, "Happy Trails," which became the theme of The Roy Rogers Show. From the 1950s onward, his repertory included country music as well as Western songs and spirituals, the latter often recorded with Evans.

Rogers continued to record into the 1970s, and he scored a hit in 1972 with "Candy Kisses." He and Dale continued making personal appearances, often in the context of religious broadcasts and gatherings, as well as television broadcasts, into the early '90s. Rogers' main influence was in keeping the image of the singing cowboy alive. Along with Autry, who retired from personal appearances at the end of the 1950s, he was one of the most popular Western stars ever to record and was an influence on an entire generation of country & western singers that followed. In 1988, Rogers was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, giving him a second spot (the first having come as a member of the Sons of the Pioneers, who had been elected some years earlier). Two years later, the next generation of country musicians, including Emmylou Harris and Randy Travis, participated in a most unusual record, The Roy Rogers Tribute, covering Rogers' best known songs with him, including an all-star rendition of "Happy Trails." Two years later, Rogers, his wife, and eldest son recorded a new album of spiritual songs. Rogers died at his home in Victorville, CA, on July 6, 1998.


Roy Rogers, born Leonard Franklin Slye (November 5, 1911 – July 6, 1998), was an American singer and cowboy actor, one of the most heavily marketed and merchandised stars of his era, as well as being the namesake of the Roy Rogers Restaurants franchised chain. He and his wife Dale Evans, his golden palomino, Trigger, and his German Shepherd dog, Bullet, were featured in more than 100 movies and The Roy Rogers Show. The show ran on radio for nine years before moving to television from 1951 through 1957. His productions usually featured a sidekick, often either Pat Brady (who drove a Jeep called "Nellybelle"), Andy Devine, or the crotchety George "Gabby" Hayes. Rogers's nickname was "King of the Cowboys" and Evans's nickname was "Queen of the West".


Biography1.1 Early life1.2 Career1.3 Death


Early life[edit]

Slye was born to Mattie (Womack) Slye and Andrew ("Andy") Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio. The family lived in a tenement building on 2nd Street (Riverfront Stadium was constructed at this location in 1970 and Slye would later joke that he had been born at second base). Dissatisfied with his job and city life, Andy and his brother Will built a 12-by-50-foot houseboat from salvage lumber, and in July 1912 the Slye family traveled up the Ohio River towards Portsmouth, Ohio. Desiring a more stable existence in Portsmouth, they purchased land on which to build a house, but the Great Flood of 1913 allowed them to move the houseboat to their property and continue living in it on dry land.

In 1919 the Slyes purchased a farm in Duck Run, located near Lucasville, Ohio about 12 miles north of Portsmouth, and built a six-room house. Andy Slye soon realized that the farm alone would provide insufficient income for his family, so he took a job at a Portsmouth shoe factory, living in Portsmouth during the week and returning home on weekends bearing gifts following paydays. A notable gift was a horse on which young Len Slye learned the basics of horsemanship.

After completing the eighth grade, Len attended high school in McDermott, Ohio. When he was 17, his family returned to Cincinnati, where his father began work at another shoe factory. He soon realized that his family needed his financial help, so he quit school and joined his father at the shoe factory. He tried to attend night school, but after being ridiculed for falling asleep in class, he quit school and never returned.

By 1929, when Len's older sister Mary and her husband had moved to Lawndale, California, he and his father had started feeling imprisoned by their factory jobs. When the family packed their 1923 Dodge to visit Mary, they stayed for four months before returning to Ohio. Almost immediately afterward Len had the opportunity to travel to California with Mary's father-in-law, and the rest of the family followed in the spring of 1930.

The Slyes rented a small house near Mary, and Len and Andy immediately found employment as truck drivers for a highway-construction project. But one morning they reported to work to discover that their employer had gone bankrupt. The economic hardship of the Great Depression had followed them west, and they soon found themselves among the economic refugees traveling from job to job picking fruit and living in worker campsites (Len would later read John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and marvel at its accuracy). One day, Andy was told of a shoe factory hiring in Los Angeles and asked Len to apply there for work with him. But having seen the joy that his guitar and singing had given the destitute around the campfires, Len hesitantly told his father that he wanted to pursue a music career. With his father's blessing, he and his cousin Stanley Slye sought musical employment in Los Angeles as The Slye Brothers.

In 1932 a palomino colt foaled in California was named "Golden Cloud"; when Len acquired him, he renamed him "Trigger". Len then went on tour with the "O-Bar-O Cowboys" and in June 1933 met Grace Arline Wilkins at a Roswell, New Mexico radio station. She traded Len a lemon pie for his singing "Swiss Yodel" over the air. They were married in Roswell, New Mexico on June 11, 1936 after having corresponded since their first meeting. In 1941, the couple adopted a girl, Cheryl Darlene. Two years later, Arline bore daughter Linda Lou. She bore Roy Jr. ("Dusty") in 1946, but died of complications from the birth a few days later, on November 3.

Rogers had met Dale Evans in 1944 when they were cast in a film together. They fell in love soon after Arline's death and Rogers proposed to her during a rodeo at Chicago Stadium. They married on New Year's Eve in 1947 at the Flying L Ranch in Davis, Oklahoma, where they had filmed Home in Oklahoma a few months earlier. They stayed married until Rogers's death in 1998.

Rogers was a Freemason and was a member of Hollywood (CA) Lodge #355, the Scottish Rite Valley of Los Angeles, and Al Malaikah Shrine Temple.


Slye moved to California to become a singer. After four years of little success, he formed the Sons of the Pioneers with Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer, a Western cowboy music group, in 1934. The group hit it big with songs like "Cool Water" and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds". From his first film appearance in 1935, he worked steadily in western films, including a large supporting role as a singing cowboy while still billed as "Leonard Slye" in a Gene Autry movie. In 1938, when Autry temporarily walked out on his movie contract, Slye was immediately rechristened "Roy Rogers". Slye's stage name was suggested by Republic Picture's staff after Will Rogers and the shortening of Leroy. and assigned the lead in Under Western Stars. Rogers became a matinee idol and American legend. A competitor for Gene Autry as the nation's favorite singing cowboy was suddenly born. In addition to his own movies, Rogers played a supporting role in the John Wayne classic Dark Command (1940). Rogers became a major box office attraction.

In the Motion Picture Herald Top Ten Money-Making Western Stars poll, Rogers was listed for 15 consecutive years from 1939 to 1954, holding first place from 1943 to 1954. He appeared in the similar Box Office poll from 1938 to 1955, holding first place from 1943 to 1952. (In the final three years of that poll he was second only to Randolph Scott.) Although these two polls are really an indication only of the popularity of series stars, Rogers also appeared in the Top Ten Money Makers Poll of all films in 1945 and 1946.

Rogers was an idol for many children through his films and television shows. Most of his postwar films were in Trucolor during an era when almost all other B westerns were black-and-white. Some of his movies would segue into animal adventures, in which Rogers's horse Trigger would go off on his own for a while, with the camera following him.

With money from not only Rogers' films but his own public appearances going to Republic Pictures, Rogers brought a clause into a 1940 contract with the studio where he would have the right to his likeness, voice and name for merchandising. There were Roy Rogers action figures, cowboy adventure novels, and playsets, as well as a comic strip, a long-lived Dell Comics comic book series (Roy Rogers Comics) written by Gaylord Du Bois, and a variety of marketing successes. Roy Rogers was second only to Walt Disney in the amount of items featuring his name. The Sons of the Pioneers continued their popularity, and they have never stopped performing from the time Rogers started the group, replacing members as they retired or passed away (all original members are deceased). Although Rogers was no longer an active member, they often appeared as Rogers' backup group in films, radio, and television, and Rogers would occasionally appear with them in performances up until his death. In August 1950, Evans and Rogers had a daughter, Robin Elizabeth, who had Down Syndrome and died of complications with mumps shortly before her second birthday. Evans wrote about losing their daughter in her book Angel Unaware.

Rogers and Evans were also well known as advocates for adoption and as founders and operators of children's charities. They adopted several children. Both were outspoken Christians. In Apple Valley, California, where they made their home, numerous streets and highways as well as civic buildings have been named after them in recognition of their efforts on behalf of homeless and handicapped children. Rogers was an active Freemason and a Shriner, and was noted for his support of their charities.

Rogers and Evans's famous theme song, "Happy Trails", was written by Evans; they sang it as a duet to sign off their television show. In the fall of 1962, the couple co-hosted a comedy-western-variety program, The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show, aired on ABC. It was cancelled after three months, losing in the ratings to The Jackie Gleason Show on CBS. He also made numerous cameo or guest appearances on other popular television shows, starring as himself or other cowboy-type characters, such as in an episode of Wonder Woman called "The Bushwackers". Rogers also owned a Hollywood production company which handled his own series. It also filmed other undertakings, including the 1955–1956 CBS western series Brave Eagle starring Keith Larsen as a young peaceful Cheyenne chief, Kim Winona as Morning Star, his romantic interest, and the Hopi Indian Anthony Numkena as Keena, Brave Eagle's foster son.

In 1968, Rogers licensed his name to the Marriott corporation, which converted its Hot Shoppes locations to Roy Rogers Restaurants, with which Rogers otherwise had no involvement.

Rogers owned a Thoroughbred racehorse named Triggairo, who won 13 career races including the 1975 El Encino Stakes at Santa Anita Park.


When Rogers died of congestive heart failure on July 6, 1998, he was residing in Apple Valley, California. He was buried at Sunset Hills Memorial Park in Apple Valley, as was his wife, Dale Evans, three years later.Cite error: There are <ref> tags on this page, but the references will not show without a {{reflist}} template (see the help page).

Homages and influence[edit]

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Rogers has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1752 Vine Street, a second star at 1733 Vine Street for his contribution to radio, and a third star at 1620 Vine Street for his contribution to the television industry. Rogers and Evans were inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in 1976 and Rogers was inducted again as a member of the Sons of the Pioneers in 1995. Rogers was also twice elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, first as a member of The Sons of the Pioneers in 1980 and as a soloist in 1988. To this day, he remains the only person elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame twice. In 2001, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him and Dale Evans.

Rogers was mentioned in the Lyle Lovett single "If I Had A Boat", Elton John's 1973 album "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" contained the escapist ballad "Roy Rogers", and Toby Keith's "Should've Been A Cowboy".

In the 1988 film Die Hard, the Bruce Willis character John McClane used the pseudonym of "Roy", saying "I was always kinda partial to Roy Rogers actually".

American Dad character Roger uses "Roy Rogers" as a pseudonym in the episode "Roy Rogers McFreely".

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans are mentioned in the song "Let's Ride Into The Sunset Together" performed by the Lost Weekend Western Swing Band. This song appears in the video game Fallout: New Vegas.

Roy Rogers himself makes an appearance in the music video for the song "Heroes and Friends" by Randy Travis.

Daughter Cheryl Rogers Barnett has written with Frank Thompson; Cowboy Princess: Life with My Parents, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans'.Cite error: There are <ref> tags on this page, but the references will not show without a {{reflist}} template (see the help page).


Slightly Static (1935) (uncredited) – Member of Sons of the PioneersThe Old Homestead (1935) (as Leonard Slye) – Sons of the PioneersWay Up Thar (1935) (as Leonard Slye) – Band memberGallant Defender (1935) (uncredited) – Nester (Sons of the Pioneers)The Mysterious Avenger (1936) (as Len Slye) – Musician LenSong of the Saddle (1936) (uncredited) – Sons of the Pioneers guitaristRhythm on the Range (1936) (uncredited) – Leonard (Sons of the Pioneers)California Mail (1936) (uncredited) – Square dance caller & guitaristThe Big Show (1936) (uncredited) – Sons of the Pioneers guitar playerThe Old Corral (1936) (uncredited) – Buck O'KeefeThe Old Wyoming Trail (1937) (uncredited) – Guitar player/Singer/CowhandWild Horse Rodeo (1937) (as Dick Weston) – SingerThe Old Barn Dance (1938) (as Dick Weston) – SingerUnder Western Stars (1938) – U.S. Representative the Hon. Roy Rogers (first lead role)Billy the Kid Returns (1938) – Roy Rogers/Billy the KidA Feud There Was (1938) (uncredited) – Egghead/Elmer singing voiceCome On, Rangers (1938) – Roy RogersShine On, Harvest Moon (1938) – Roy RogersRough Riders' Round-up (1939) – Roy RogersSouthward Ho (1939) – RoyFrontier Pony Express (1939) – Roy RogersIn Old Caliente (1939) – Roy RogersWall Street Cowboy (1939) – Roy RogersThe Arizona Kid (1939) – Roy Rogers/The Arizona KidJeepers Creepers (1939) – RoySaga of Death Valley (1939) – Roy RogersDays of Jesse James (1939) – Roy RogersDark Command (1940) – Fletcher 'Fletch' McCloudYoung Buffalo Bill (1940) – Bill CodyThe Carson City Kid (1940) – The Carson City KidThe Ranger and the Lady (1940) – Texas Ranger Captain Roy ColtColorado (1940) – Lieutenant Jerry BurkeYoung Bill Hickok (1940) – 'Wild' Bill HickokThe Border Legion (1940) – Dr. Stephen Kellogg, aka Steve KellsRobin Hood of the Pecos (1941) – Vance CorbinArkansas Judge (1941) – Tom MartelIn Old Cheyenne (1941) – Steve BlaneSheriff of Tombstone (1941) – Brett StarrNevada City (1941) – Jeff ConnorsBad Man of Deadwood (1941) – Brett Starr aka Bill BradyJesse James at Bay (1941) – Jesse James/Clint BurnsRed River Valley (1941) – Roy RogersMan from Cheyenne (1942) – Roy RogersSouth of Santa Fe (1942) – Roy RogersSunset on the Desert (1942) – Roy Rogers & Deputy Bill SloanRomance on the Range (1942) – Roy RogersSons of the Pioneers (1942) – Roy RogersSunset Serenade (1942) – Roy RogersHeart of the Golden West (1942) – Roy RogersRidin' Down the Canyon (1942) – Roy RogersIdaho (1943) – Roy RogersKing of the Cowboys (1943) – Roy RogersSong of Texas (1943) – Roy RogersSilver Spurs (1943) – Roy RogersHands Across the Border (1944) – Roy RogersCowboy and the Senorita (1944) – Roy RogersThe Yellow Rose of Texas (1944) – Roy RogersSong of Nevada (1944) – Roy RogersSan Fernando Valley (1944) – Roy RogersLights of Old Santa Fe (1944) – Roy RogersHollywood Canteen (1944) – Roy Rogers and TriggerUtah (1945) – Roy RogersWhere Do We Go from Here? (1945) (scenes deleted)Bells of Rosarita (1945) – Roy RogersThe Man from Oklahoma (1945) – Roy RogersAlong the Navajo Trail (1945) – Roy RogersSunset in El Dorado (1945) – Roy RogersDon't Fence Me In (1945) – Roy RogersSong of Arizona (1946) – Roy RogersRainbow Over Texas (1946) – Roy RogersMy Pal Trigger (1946) – Roy RogersUnder Nevada Skies (1946) – Roy RogersRoll on Texas Moon (1946) – Roy RogersHome in Oklahoma (1946) – Roy RogersOut California Way (1946) – Roy RogersHeldorado (1946) – Nevada State Ranger Roy RogersApache Rose (1947) – Roy RogersBells of San Angelo (1947) – Border Investigator Roy RogersSpringtime in the Sierras (1947) – Roy RogersOn the Old Spanish Trail (1947) – Roy RogersPecos Bill (1948) – Roy RogersThe Gay Ranchero (1948) – Sheriff Roy RogersUnder California Stars (1948) – Roy RogersEyes of Texas (1948) – U.S. Marshal Roy RogersNight Time in Nevada (1948) – Roy RogersGrand Canyon Trail (1948) – Roy RogersThe Far Frontier (1948) – Roy RogersSusanna Pass (1949) – Roy RogersDown Dakota Way (1949) – Roy RogersThe Golden Stallion (1949) – Roy RogersBells of Coronado (1950) – Roy RogersTwilight in the Sierras (1950) – State Parole Officer Roy RogersTrigger, Jr. (1950) – Roy RogersSunset in the West (1950) – Roy RogersNorth of the Great Divide (1950) – Roy RogersTrail of Robin Hood (1950) – Roy RogersSpoilers of the Plains (1951) – Roy RogersHeart of the Rockies (1951) – Roy RogersIn Old Amarillo (1951) – Roy RogersSouth of Caliente (1951) – Roy RogersPals of the Golden West (1951) – Border Patrolman Roy RogersSon of Paleface (1952) – Roy BartonAlias Jesse James (1959) (uncredited) – Roy RogersMackintosh and T.J. (1975) – MackintoshThe Fall Guy (1983) Season 2, Episode 11 "Happy Trails" – Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys

Popular songs recorded by Rogers[edit]

"Don't Fence Me In""Hold That Critter Down""Little White Cross On The Hill""One More Ride""Ride Ranger Ride""That Pioneer Mother Of Mine""Tumbling Tumbleweeds""Way Out There" (singing and yodeling)"Why, Oh Why, Did I Ever Leave Wyoming?""Hold On Partner" (duet with Clint Black)
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Tour Dates All Dates Dates In My Area

Date Venue Location Tickets
05.10.14 The Palms Winters, CA US
06.20.14 Dakota Jazz Club Minneapolis, MN US
06.21.14 Violet's Venue Barrie, ON Canada
10.12.14 Yoshi's Oakland Oakland, CA US