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Disneyland Article
Farley The Fiddler Disneyland Roping Joking Fiddling Cowboy Hangs Up His Spurs And Heads For The Sunset

Pioneer Mercantile
Orange County Register
Brady Macdonald
May 24, 2019
June 06, 2019
Disneyland’s Farley the Fiddler will be hanging up his spurs this holiday weekend after decades of entertaining generations of dedicated fans with music and laughter as the roping, joking, fiddling cowboy of Frontierland.

Gary Francisco, better known to his legions of Disneyland fans as Farley the Fiddler, will retire from his daily Disneyland gig on Memorial Day after a half century of playing the comedic character.

Dedicated fans knew they could always count on a little music and laughter from the famed fiddler on the front porch of the Pioneer Mercantile shop.

“Right at the entrance to Frontierland,” said Francisco, 67, of the Fawnskin community of Big Bear Lake. “That’s been my home for years.”

Francisco has been Farley the Fiddler for nearly 50 years. The fiddling cowboy has worked at Disneyland for four decades, playing Farley full time for the past quarter century.

With seven shows a day, five days a week, Monday through Friday, that’s more than 40,000 performances during his Disneyland career. His fans who follow his Facebook page know when and where Farley will be performing. His stage is wherever he pauses to play in Frontierland. A semi-circle crowd of onlookers soon gathers to listen to his fun-filled fiddle playing, laugh at his corny jokes and maybe even learn a little rodeo roping.

In short, Farley the Fiddler has been offering interactive and immersive entertainment for decades before those became theme park buzzwords.

He’s getting out just before the hordes of Star Wars fans descend on Disneyland this summer to see Galaxy’s Edge, which debuts May 31 at the Anaheim theme park.

Saying goodbye won’t be that easy though for Francisco. Disneyland’s entertainment department has already booked him for upcoming special events at the park.

We caught up with Farley the Fiddler on Thursday and talked to him about his career, memories and plans for future.

Q. Let’s start at the beginning. Tell me a little bit about your parents and where you were you born.

A. My dad was from Missouri and my mom’s from Oklahoma. She’s Cherokee and so I’m a card-carrying Cherokee from northeast Oklahoma. They met in a place called Southwest City, Missouri. He was in the Army during the Korean War and stationed at a place called Fort Lee, Virginia. And that’s where I was born.

We moved to San Diego and that’s where I was raised since I was about four. I consider myself from San Diego.

Q. How did you got started at Disneyland?

A. I was with a group in San Diego called Montezuma’s Revenge, which was a comedy country jug band in Spring Valley. We worked here during the country music days. We’d warm up some of the different acts and things like that.

Some of the first pictures I have are of us performing in the Golden Horseshoe. That was about 1978. There was a group here at the time called the Thunder Mountain Boys. After I left Montezuma’s Revenge, they heard I’d left the group and they needed to replace a member. So they had me come up and audition for the group. And I didn’t get the job. I had a little too much personality for the leader I think.

I was hired to be a fiddle player for Big Thunder Ranch when they opened it.

Q. When did you start playing Farley the Fiddler?

A. In 1972 when I joined Montezuma’s Revenge. Everybody had a stage name. Farley the Fiddler really stuck.

Q. How did you develop the character over the years?

A. Because it was a stage name I got to become a different personality than Gary Francisco. Gary Francisco is kind of a shy violinist. But you put me on stage as Farley the Fiddler and it’s like I was free.

I started collecting these jokes and that’s become a big part of my routine. Not just the fiddle playing and a little bit of roping, but a lot of joke telling. I have a whole arsenal of cow jokes.

Q. Do you have a comedy background?

A. No, my inspiration was my younger brother. Whenever I see myself on video, I am being my younger brother. That’s James. He was the comedian in the family.

Q. What about a musical background?

A. In fourth grade, a guy came to my school and did instrument demonstrations. I came home from that program and said, “Mom, I have to play the violin.” So we borrowed a cousin’s violin and I learned to play. When I was in high school, she told me her dad was a fiddle player, my grandpa. His dad was a fiddle player and his dad was a fiddle player and his dad was too, way before the Civil War.

Q. Who is Farley the Fiddler? Describe him.

A. In the Disneyland program, they put me as the roping, joking, fiddling cowboy. That would be a good description. I get to wear the coolest outfit ever. It’s an accurate Western cowboy outfit from the 1860s, 1870s. I got fringed heavy duty leather chaps. You know I get a lot of fringe benefits. I even have fringe in low places. Really high class boots with some beautiful spurs that Mickey gave me a few years ago. I have a vest, which they’d always wear because when you’re sitting in the saddle, you can’t get into your jeans. So you would wear a vest with at least four pockets so you could get to your stuff. I have a wild rag, which is what they called the silk scarf. Then I have this overcoat or duster. And, of course, the Stetson. Which just sets it all off.

Q. Did you model Farley after any other characters?

A. I grew up in San Diego. I was lucky enough to have known an entertainer called Sam Hinton, who was a folk musician. Just a family entertainment kind of guy. The other one would be John Denver.

And when I started here, I always admired Rod the piano player on Main Street. He was a legend at Disneyland. I never thought I would reach that status. But people say I have.

Q. Why do you think Farley resonated with visitors?

A. Just because of who I am. I have never had to try to be somebody else. I have just been myself and it’s been accepted. Just because of the way my mama raised me.

Q. How do you approach the role?

A. I’m considered an atmosphere entertainer. I’m creating an atmosphere and making as much happiness like Walt would have wanted. I grew up on Walt. We all did.

I have these hoe downs and I’m doing the “Hokey Pokey” and the “Chicken Dance” and singing “Twinkle Twinkle” with the kids. Because once you have the kids by the hand, you have the parents by the heart.

Q. Do you have any sense of how many times you’ve played the character?

A. Oh my gosh, seven times a day for 23 years. Who knows? I’ve never done the math. That’s a lot.

Q. You have a lot of dedicated fans.

A. I now have been here so long that kids are bringing their kids. Generations of fans.

Q. What’s your favorite joke?

A. The one that I tell the most is: Why do cows have to wear bells around their necks? Because their horns don’t work.

Well now wait a minute. Fourteen times a day I tell this one: What did the buffalo say to his youngin’ when he dropped him off at school? Bye, son.

Q. You take requests all the time. Do you ever get stumped?

A. A lady asked me today for “Sioux City Sue.” That’s a great old cowboy song. I’m still getting requests for songs that I don’t know.

I have a giant repertoire. I’m mainly a fiddle player, so I can play all night long and not repeat a song for square dances and stuff. But every once in awhile I’ll get stuck with one.

Q. How do you want Farley the Fiddler to be remembered?

A. Just for who I am. Just who I’ve been. Just the real person. I haven’t been fake. I’m just like anybody else. We’re all having fun together.

Q. Did you ever imagine Farley the Fiddler would last this long?

A. No, my dad was an auto mechanic. I thought I was going to be something like that.

A lot of people come here to work for a summer and they’re here for 40 years or 50 years. I had no idea that I would be doing this for a living, that’s for sure.

Q. What’s next for you?

A. Well, it’s retirement. The house we just bought in Big Bear Lake, I have to do a little work to get it ready for winter time.

I’m still going to do my outside educational program in the schools up there in that area. And then maybe camps and who knows what.
Attractions Referenced

Big Thunder Ranch

Golden Horseshoe Revue

Shops Referenced

Pioneer Mercantile

Lands Referenced


Main Street U.S.A.

Star Wars Galaxys Edge

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