Country singer Callie Twisselman smiled as she saddled a chocolate-brown horse named Cash on her family’s Shandon ranch. Behind the stables, acres of golden grass and barley swayed in the summer breeze.
Twisselman grew up on the 40,000-acre ranch, which her family has had for seven generations. That’s where she learned to ride horses, care for cattle and sing.
Now Twisselman, who lives and works in Nashville, returns to the ranch every two months to visit her family.
”This is who I am and where I’m from,” said Twisselman. “It’s really good to get back to your roots.”
On Friday, Twisselman will open for country duo Big & Rich at the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles. Taking the stage at the Chumash Grandstand Arena, she’ll perform songs from her new EP “Closure,” which was inspired by her childhood on the ranch.
Then, on Saturday, she’ll compete in the fair’s Country Rodeo.
“Coming back to San Luis Obispo to sing live at the fair is really like a full-circle moment,” Twisselman said. “I’m really excited because I love being home.”
Growing up country in SLO County
A school bus used to rumble through the Twisselman Ranch each weekday — passing cattle grazing under a wide, blue sky, before dropping off Twisselman, her siblings and cousins at their grandma’s house.
Most of Twisselman’s family lives on the ranch. Her grandma is up the hill from her childhood home, and her aunts, uncles, cousins and brothers are scattered about the property.
“Everyone lives within a mile of each other,” she said. “We can just walk right up the hill to Grandma’s house and visit.”
Two Twisselman cousins married two Madonna sisters, so she’s distantly related to Alex and Phyllis Madonna, founders of San Luis Obispo’s iconic Madonna Inn.
The ranch has 1,000 pairs of cattle, which is a cow and their calf, and 50 bulls. Most of the time, half of the calves are male and half are female. Twisselman has five of her own cows, which are named after country singers. It’s one of the few barley farms left in the region, as most properties transitioned to wine grapes years ago.
Twisselman and her sister, Carly, shared a horse named Dough Boy when they were kids, and helped their family herd cattle, clean cattle trailers and check water troughs on the property.
“Growing up on a ranch, you learn your work ethic, how to work hard, and you have to have a lot of patience,” Twisselman said, tools that serve her well in the music industry.
While attending Templeton High School, she competed at rodeos in breakaway roping, barrel racing and team roping — her favorite event.
“She’s country at heart,” said her mom, Junis Twisselman. “She’s a cowgirl.”
Singer’s road to country music
Twisselman was 4 years old the first time she performed for her family. She hid behind the couch and sang “Baby Face” in the style of Darla from “The Little Rascals,” her older sister Carly said.
“She sounded just like her,” Carly Twisselman said. “We’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re 4 years old and you can sing like that?’”
Music runs in the family. Junis Twisselman sang in a local country band called Lone Star that traveled around California.
“I would sing along with them a little bit here and there, and I kind of got the bug for it,” Callie Twisselman said.
When Twisselman was 10, she opened for Bonnie Raitt at the California Mid-State Fair, performing the national anthem.
“It was really exciting. I thought I was so cool backstage, but I also had a lot of nerves (it) being the first time,” Twisselman said. “I remember my uncle was there watching, and he had tears in his eyes.”
Then, she sang the national anthem at graduations, sports games and rodeos all over the county. When she was 15, she wrote her first song, called “Any Dream Can Come True,” which her mom discovered on a piece of paper in her closet.
“I was all embarrassed because I was a teenager,” Twisselman said, but her mom was so impressed with the song she thought it was written by a professional.
Twisselman soon learned guitar, and “she just started writing songs right and left,” her mom said.
“I was so happy somebody was actually following in my footsteps,” Junis Twisselman said. “I’m living my dreams through her.”
Twisselman recorded some music locally when she was 16 and later traveled to Alabama to record more. In 2015, she filmed a music video for her song “Hung Me on the Line” on her family’s ranch.
In 2017, Twisselman moved to Nashville, where she started working with Dolly Parton’s producer, Danny Nozell.
In 2019, Twisselman started writing songs for other people — from country musicians to pop stars. She even has a song for “My Little Pony: A New Generation,” due out in September.
She released her first EP with Vintern Songs and eOne Music Publishing earlier this month.
“She’s just the most humble person, and she’s shy,” Junis Twissleman said of her daughter. “But once she gets on that stage, she’s alive. She’s just a whole different person.”
Callie Twisselman starts a new chapter with album
Twisselman released her five-song album, “Closure,” on July 8.
The title track is lyrically about a relationship, but the song also reflects the closure Twisselman feels after releasing the album.
The singer uprooted her life when she moved to Nashville, and with “Closure,” she said she feels like she’s starting a new chapter in her career.
Twisselman said that the album is steeped in her rural San Luis Obispo County upbringing — noting that her dad, cattle rancher Lonnie Twisselman, inspired the song “Cowboy.”
“Working dusk till dawn with calloused hands/ His name lives on in the family land,” his daughter sings.
“The ranch lifestyle is: You get up before dawn, you feed the animals, you go out, check the waters, check the cows,” Callie Twisselman said. “Basically working from day to night, and you do it all over again.”
Twisselman said her father taught her to ride horses and rope calves and took her to check the cattle’s water troughs around the ranch.
“He definitely taught me how to work hard,” she said. “He’s my biggest hero.”
She later re-wrote “Cowboy” to be a love song on the advice of her producer.
She filmed the music video for “Cowboy” on the family ranch, with her sister’s husband playing the love interest.
Twisselman said the label may release the video on July 24 — National Cowboy Day — and iHeartRadio should start playing the song in September.
This isn’t the first time she’s included family members in her music videos.
Relatives made up nearly the entire cast of her music video for “Two Hands,” another track from “Closure.”
They filmed the video at the Jack Ranch Cafe in Shandon, 10 minutes down the road from her house. Twisselman said her family ate at the restaurant all the time growing up.
Her mom said she’s excited to watch Twisselman chase her dreams.
“Her dream is coming true,” her mom said with tears in her eyes. “I’m just so proud.”
Callie Twisselman performs Friday night as the opening act for Big and Rich at the Chumash Grandstand Arena. Tickets are $50.50 to $100.50 and can be purchased at midstatefair.com.