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Gone country at the county fair

Betty Rydell (left) and her granddaugher, Randi Friedl - who performs under the name Randi Rae - sing together Wednesday at the Cottonwood County Fair in Windom. (RYAN McGAUGHEY/DAILY GLOBE)

WINDOM - Betty Rydell may have been billed by the Cottonwood County Fair as a "world famous yodeler," but she's quick to point out that she's probably not that well renowned.

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"I don't know about world famous, but I have been yodeling for a lot of years," Rydell said, shortly before she and her granddaughter, Randi Friedl, took the stage Wednesday afternoon inside the fair's Entertainment Tent. "I have played and sang in a lot places."

Considering Rydell said she started performing at "about 13" and is now 75, there have likely been many, many people who have seen Rydell perform.

According to a printed biography sheet, Rydell has "been heard in clubs, fairs, conventions, theaters, churches, radio and television throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Central America." She has performed with such country music stars as Barbara Mandrell, Charlie Pride, Conway Twitty, Tex Ritter and many others.

Rydell may be heralded for her yodeling, but she's by no means a one-dimensional performer. She'll typically play nearly a dozen instruments during a show -- no surprise, considering her life-long love of music - and sing old-time country music and gospel standards in a straight-ahead style.

"I was raised on a farm outside of Alexandria, and we didn't have a bathroom until I was 12," she said a few songs into her first of two hour-long sets Wednesday. "You're probably wondering how I held it that long.

"At age 5, I knew what I wanted to do," she added. "With yodeling, it's about vowels -- you go up and down with your vocal cords on the vowels -- and I've also just had a lot of practice. I started when I was 8 years old. .. I would practice for hours. My mom and dad would say, 'Do you have to practice so loud?'"

Rydell's love for song and performance has rubbed off on Friedl, 19, who performs under the name Randi Rae. She has sung professionally in Branson, Mo., as well on "Midwest County," a program broadcast nationally on RFD-TV.

"I've been singing with my grandma since I was 4," Friedl said. "Grandma dragged me along one day; she was babysitting me. She had me go up on stage and sing with her. I think it was 'This Little Light of Mine.'"

Friedl, like her grandmother, resides in Anoka and tries to accompany her to as many shows as she can. She also yodels, as she explained she's learned the art from her grandmother by ear. The duo will perform songs both together and separately when they take the stage.

As far as performances go nowadays, they've played the Minnesota State Fair and numerous county fairs around Minnesota, but also try accomodating as many requests as they can.

"If we were asked to play a 64th birthday party, we'll be there," Friedl said, smiling.

On Wednesday, Rydell -- who admits to still getting nervous before opening a show -- was in constant motion helping get the stage set up. A past winner of the Country Entertainers Association of the Upper Midwest Entertainer of the Year Award and a member of the Minnesota Rock and Country Hall of Fame, she doesn't appear to have years and years of performing slow her down. But why keep going at 75?

"I still love it," she said.

Other featured entertainment scheduled through the remainder of the Cottonwood County Fair includes a "Red Skelton Show" set for Friday and Saturday afternoons, a talent show on Friday night and Tim Sigler on Saturday evening. The fair concludes Saturday.

Ryan McGaughey

I first joined the Daily Globe in April 2001 as sports editor. I later became the news editor in November 2002, and the managing editor in August 2006. I'm originally from New York State, and am married with two children.

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