FORDYCE, Neb. — Most days, Jan Schiferl’s arena provides a great showplace for her horses.

But during the past decade, the arena has hosted bigname acts normally found in Nashville and similar locales.

Schiferl and her husband, Greg, constructed the arena on their WJ Ranch. The site is located seven miles south of Yankton, a halfmile off U.S. Highway 81.

Jan performs with the all-female musical group “Sweetwater.” Given her music background, she and Greg saw the arena’s potential for “entertainment” as well as “equestrian.”

“When we built our arena, we hoped to promote horsemanship and wholesome family events,” she said. “My passion for music, and the occasional ‘barn dance’ we held, soon made us realize the barn held the uncanny ability to offer spectacular acoustics. We ran with it, believing maybe the barn could be a place to offer the community a great concert in a cowboy setting.”

The experiment became an immediate success, Schiferl said.

“We weren’t sure in knowing where this route was going to take us. But it has progressed,” she said. “We started out with Cowboy Christmas events. We were doing a concert event or some other things.”

Cowboy poet Baxter Black became the arena’s first performer, and he played a return engagement.

Other concerts have featured Michael Martin Murphey; Riders In The Sky (twice); Wylie & The Wild West (the yodel heard at; and Red Steagall & Dan Tyminski (of Alison Krauss and Union Station).

Most recently, country star Suzy Bogguss performed in September at the WJ Ranch.

The timing was right for booking Bogguss, who was promoting a new folk album resurrecting classics such as “Shenandoah” and “Red River Valley.”

Bogguss has also worked with Michael Martin Murphey, providing a natural connection for the WJ Ranch.

“Suzy’s concert was absolutely amazing. Not only was it our largest attendance in nine years of having concerts, Suzy is the most genuine, wonderful person ever,” Schiferl said.

“She and the two musicians, Pat and Charlie, stayed and visited until after midnight that night with our family. We will have her back again soon. In fact, she is even giving me some input on who we should have next year.”

Bogguss’ opening act was Yvonne Hollenbeck of Clearfield, S.D., the top award-winning cowgirl poet in America. In addition to numerous awards by the Academy of Western Artists, Hollenbeck’s peers in the Western Music Association selected her as the Female Poet of the year in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010.

Not one of the acts to appear at the WJ Ranch over the years has “gone Hollywood” on Schiferl. In fact, the “stars” have turned out to be incredibly down to earth, she added.

“It’s been real fun working with all of them,” she said. “We have been blessed.

Everybody that we have worked with has been over-the-top cool.”

That’s not to say each performance has gone without a hitch, Schiferl said.

“When we hosted Michael Martin Murphey (of ‘Wildfire’ fame), it was a downpour the whole week before his show,” she said. “But that night was a great turnout. We had really great numbers.”

Schiferl believes the key to success has been finding the right acts that mesh with the arena’s unique atmosphere.

“We try to think of what fits our cowboy venue, and then we guess which performers would work well,” she said. “The arena is a different venue, and we have transformed it into many different faces. It’s set up to hold between 500 and 550 people.”

“I would like to think it’s an intimate show,” she added.

When she books a show, Schiferl immediately lets the acts know they aren’t playing your typical venue.

“They know that they will be performing in a barn. I don’t want them surprised when they get here,” she said. “I think it would be a little different and a lot of fun for them.

It’s a little outside the box, and that’s worked so far. We have had great times.”

The hospitality starts long before the performers take to the stage. They literally are made to feel at home.

“They will be here that afternoon for a sound check and to get everything set up,” Schiferl said. “We serve them dinner, and then we just go and let them have our house and relax. They can use our computer or however else they want to roll time along. We want them to have a home cooked meal and enjoy our house.”

The homemade dinners have been a hit with the performers, Schiferl said. “The group ‘Riders In The Sky’ emailed me, asking for our recipe. The credit for that (meal) goes to our daughter, Megan,” she said.

When the visiting acts set up for their performances, they are floored by the arena’s acoustics and lighting, Schiferl said.

“My really good friend, Don Saxton, works with a Sioux Falls music and sound company. He also produces western albums,” she said. “When this (concert series) all started, we just said we needed a sound man to run our sound and lights that first time. Now, he does it for every concert. We couldn’t do it without him.”

Schiferl admitted she was nervous about the acoustics at first, but it has gone well.

“I don’t think one of the artists hasn’t commented (positively) on the sound,” she said. “They think, ‘Wow! The sound is really great!’ There’s no explanation. It just works.”

So far, the concerts have drawn audience members from as far away as Milwaukee. Concerts frequently draw fans — some by the busload — from Omaha, Lincoln, Sioux City, Sioux Falls and points to the west.

“As far as being a singer myself, I hope it helps (with booking acts),” she said. “I know maybe what the audience enjoys and maybe what they like.”

Schiferl holds a long-lasting connection with country music.

“When I was attending YC (Yankton College), I was a music major and did my thesis on bluegrass music. I went to Nashville to study blue grass music, which is my love,” she said.

“I started talking to people (in Nashville) and decided these people are like me. I just really enjoy meeting people. Everyone (performing) here has been really down to earth. I think you find that with almost anybody in this kind of music.”

While Schiferl enjoys promoting concerts, she also knows it’s a business.

“We are charging $25 in advance or $40 at the door (for tickets),” she said. “The first year we did this, the ticket prices were $25 in advance and $30 at the door. It wasn’t enough of a difference, and we didn’t have enough chairs set up. We have to rent most of the chairs, so we need to know (the exact number) in advance so we don’t have people sitting on the floor.”

Ticket sales aren’t enough to cover all the bills, and sponsors help cover the difference, Schiferl said.

“When we really got started, Mark Hunhoff of Mark’s Machinery (in Yankton) was one of the first guys who stepped up and helped me pull off this crazy idea,” she said. “We have other sponsors, but I would consider Mark as my gold level sponsor. He has been a lot of help.”

The “silver” and “bronze” level sponsors are West-Hodson Lumber, Doyle Stevens Construction, Crofton Farm Supply, Town & Country Insurance, and Lewis & Clark Lodge, all of Crofton, Neb.; Pit Charger and Cedar Security Bank of Fordyce, Neb.; and Yankton Livestock and Clark’s Rentals, both of Yankton.

While some things have changed over the years, Schiferl has kept one thing constant.

“We want people feeling it’s wholesome, family-oriented entertainment,” she said. “The goal is, anytime people come here, they can feel comfortable and have a really good time. There hasn’t been a performance so far without a standing ovation. People are here to have fun.”

Schiferl shows, with hard work and a little luck, dreams do come true.

“People think we’re nuts for what we’re doing (with the arena), but there aren’t a lot of these opportunities,” she said. “You’ve got to have a passion in life and believe in something. It’s tough to keep going at times, but we pull it off.”

For more information about the WJ Ranch, call (402) 357-2102 or visit online at