06/25/2014 12:00AM ● Published by Melissa Mendonca
As the crowd quieted in anticipation of The Star Spangled Banner at last month’s Reno rodeo, a few were surprised to see not one but two petite teenagers hold up microphones. Small in stature but large in voice, Ashtin Lopeman, 14, and Jennifer Peyton, 15, both of Red Bluff, have found an unusual way to spend their summer vacation: harmonizing the National Anthem at rodeos near and far.
“It’s an honor,” Jennifer says of the opportunity to lead such large audiences in the patriotic salute. “I love it. I love seeing people smile, even if I mess up.”
Messing up isn't common for these two, who have trained with beloved Red Bluff music teacher Judi Richins and often place first and second in local singing competitions. “We’ve actually competed against each other a lot in singing,” says Ashtin. “It’s not like we strategize against each other.”
Instead, the two young women strategize with each other to best use their unique voices to keep things fresh. Ashtin has a voice for opera and says, “It's one of my strong points, but I don't really enjoy it.” Jennifer on the other hand, says, “I mostly sing country songs and what's ‘in’ today.”
The daughter of Raec and Chuck Lopeman, the sound man at many professional rodeos, Ashtin said she was invited to sing the National Anthem because of her family connections. Of legendary rodeo announcer Bob Tallman, she says, “He's like my adopted grandpa.”
“I never would have thought to do it, ” she says of the gig. “It all got started when we got asked to sing.”
Ashtin originally thought to sing with her mom because “I didn't want to sing it by myself.” Plans were in gear, “And then I chickened out!” laughs Raec.
Jennifer jumped in to save the day, saying of her friendship with Ashtin, “We've always loved music and singing along.”
Despite the connections to rodeo, both girls say it’s fun to prove to people that they’ve got legitimate talent. “A lot of people underestimate us,” says Jennifer. Their talents have been proven at such prestigious rodeos as the Red Bluff Round Up, Redding Rodeo, St. Paul Rodeo and Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming.
“It’s actually really fun because I’m really horsey, I guess you could say,” says Ashtin, who looks forward to competing in high school rodeo as a barrel racer and goat and tie-down roper. Jennifer, on the other hand, was not raised in the rodeo world but says she’s come to appreciate it. “A lot of my friends are involved in it, so I’m always at rodeos,” she says. “My favorite event would have to be the steer wrestling.”
Both girls agree that there are perks to being at rodeos as musical talent. “We get a lot of royal treatment,” enthuses Ashtin. Hotel rooms are comped, swag is given away and they’ve met county music stars such as the Zach Brown Band, Taylor Swift, Reba McEntire and Red Bluff’s own Chad Bushnell.
Come fall, Jennifer will be a sophomore at West Valley High and Ashtin will be a freshman at Red Bluff High. Jennifer is in the choir and says she takes “all the honors and AP classes I can.” Ashtin has already signed up for show choir and says she’s already started searching for a college where she can board her horse.
Though they attend separate schools, the two hold steady to the opportunities to sing for arena crowds. They also know they can weather any storm together, as they’ve already faced the passing of Jennifer's mother to ovarian cancer last year.
For while there’s been a lot of joyful teenage fun touring rodeos, there have also been tears shed and keen responsibility taken, participating as Team Peyton in the Relay for Life.
But as Jennifer looks to a future in the medical field and Ashtin prepares for high school, Jennifer says, “I guess as we get older, the National Anthem just brings us back together.”