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Monterey (California) December


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December, 2004
Monterey Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival

Two reports and photos:

by Margo Metegrano,
by Marcia Dickey

with additional photos by Dixie Dixon



December 3-5, 2004

Cover art by C. L. Ballantyne


What a Show!

If you could use only one word to describe the Monterey festival, it would be: Impressive.  They attract the "best of the best" poets and musicians; enthusiastic audiences fill the beautiful Monterey Conference Center auditorium; the programs run smoothly; top artists and craftsman exhibit at their Western Art & Gear Show; the community is involved in its support of the event and the participation of many, including talented young performers; and it takes place in beautiful Monterey.  

A real program-plus is that you can attend and not miss a single show.  There are no concurrent shows.  But if you don't have a ticket for one of them or want to enjoy the Western Gear & Art Show,  you can also catch entertainment from the featured artists and open mike sessions in that large area throughout the day.

Just some of the highlights, in addition to those reported elsewhere:

The sixth annual show got off to a great start on Friday night with a presentation to Gary Brown, outgoing Festival Director, by President and new Director Mick Vernon and Frank Pinney, organizer of the popular Salinas California Rodeo Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The appreciative audience stood to honor the man who has been a driving force behind this festival, helping to build it quickly into one of the most respected Western events in the country.

Mick Vernon


Robin and Frank Pinney

The entertainment on the first night's show, "Cowboy Blues and Bunkhouse Ballads," featured Don Edwards,, the Gillette Brothers, Juni Fisher, and Dennis Gaines

Gaines is a master performer. The audience loved his special brand of humor and performance, and happily went along on his flights on fancy in some new pieces and especially in his classic "Bungee Buckaroo."

Juni Fisher followed with her clear, sweet voice, and her set included her song of  immigrants' "sod and settling," and her followup to Marty Robbins' "El Paso."  She got a big laugh from the crowd when she told how as a girl she told her mother that she wanted to be "just like Joan Baez."  Her mother replied, "You can't, honey.  We're Republicans."

Both Dennis Gaines and Juni Fisher had additional, later outstanding performances as well.

And just when it seemed it couldn't get better, The Gillette Brothers, two of today's best traditional cowboy music practitioners, took the stage.  Much of their performance drew on their newest CD, Ridin' with Dayton,  They told how Don Edwards had introduced them to Jack Thorp's 1945 book, Pardners of the Wind, which inspired them to try to capture the atmosphere of the times from the great trail drives through the 20's and the 30's.  With banjo, harmonica,
tambourine, other acoustic instruments, as well as a capella singing,  they treated the crowd to songs as diverse as "Old Diamond Joe" and Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer."  Their serious cowboy music, traditional and original,
included the new CD's title song, about a black cowboy who worked with their father. To top it all off, they played the bones -- they say say the rib bones of old Gus, who they get along with a lot better now -- and told about their long history as instruments, how they are depicted in paintings from 2000 BC, mentioned in ancient Roman history, and mentioned in Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream." They told of a story they heard from a Montana rancher in Cody who had "learned the bones" from a Miles City cowboy who had a band, and that was the cowboy connection they had been looking for.  The Gillette Brothers' performance earned them a standing ovation. As emcee Dennis Gaines said, "They are the best at what they do."

Guy and Pipp Gillette took over their grandfather's Texas ranch near Crockett in 1993, and several years later restored an old cafe, which is now the Camp Street Café and Store, where they host a wide range of performers on Saturday days and occasionally at other times.  See their web site ( for more information, their music, and yes, bones for sale.

Only Don Edwards could follow such a great show and he kept the crowd satisfied with some of his most-loved songs, including "Minstrel of the Range," Ian Tyson's "Will James," and "Master's Call."  He dedicated his song, "West of Yesterday," about the great Tom Mix, to outgoing Festival Director Gary Brown, who is a Western movie expert and an avid collector.

Later the Gillette Brothers joined Don Edwards on stage and they performed one of Texas' oldest folk songs, "Down by the Brazos"; brought out an Irish drum for "The Bard of Armagh," with Edwards' heavenly voice bringing in "Streets of Laredo"; took up two banjos and a guitar to do "Goodbye Old Paint"; and came back for an encore.

What a way to start a festival.

They offer the tops in music at Monterey, and also the best of the best Cowboy Poetry. On Saturday morning, "Swappin' Stories at the General Store" featured Jim Ross, Dennis Gaines, Pat Richardson, and Wallace McRae. Jim
Ross got things off to a perfect start with a recitation of Bruce Kiskaddon's "The General Store."  Dennis Gaines nearly hypnotized the audience with his "Bovine Palpitation," and Pat Richardson had them rolling in the aisles with his groaner jokes, where North Dakota is often on the losing end. With his commanding, authoritative voice, master poet
Wallace McRae delivered his powerful "One More Shipping Day."

The round robin continued with one great performance after another.  Jim Ross did S. Omar Barker's "Bruin Wooin'." At the request of Gary Brown, Karen Ross took the stage to do "Rindercella," a real reciting feat.  She learned the poem from Sunny Hancock's wife, Alice, who learned it from the bartender who introduced the two.  Pat Richardson matched that performance with his "Suicide"; Dennis Gaines followed with his own amazing, elaborate, "I've Rode Everything," and there were more classics and original poems from all. There was probably more fun going on in that room that anywhere in the West.

The Saturday open-mike sessions in the Art and Gear Show room were likewise full of talent, from the young people who got Don Edwards' attention to poets and musicians including Janice Gilbertson doing her award-winning "I Knew That"; Scott Collins with "Trail Pards"; George Dickey with "The Red White and Blue," which he dedicated "to those serving today and in the past, who let us do what we're doing today,"; Jim Cardwell with "Sixteen Pills" ala Tennessee Ernie Ford; Susan Parker with "Cowboy Kinda Girl"; and John Silveira, Jim Murphy, Hank Gibbons, the Lost Canyon Rangers, and many others.

Don Edwards

Janice Gilbertson and Scott Collins

In the "Saturday Matinee at the Bijou" show, a "tribute to Gene, Tex, Roy, Dale, & Sons of the Pioneers," RW Hampton, the Sons of the San Joaquin, Dave Stamey, Eli Barsi, and Rich and Valerie O'Brien put on another show full of the best entertainment.  

Dave Stamey, one of today's top cowboy singers, opened with "Ridin' Neath a Cowboy Moon," which he told is a celebration of the days when you could go to the pictures for 10 cents during the days of the great singing cowboys. (

Eli Barsi, next in the sold-out show, continued with a historic choice, "A Two-Seated Saddle," which was written
for Dale Evans in 1947 by the Sons of the Pioneers, and another, "Silver on the Sage," that Dale Evans sang and that was recorded by the Sons of the Pioneers.  She closed with a contemporary song she wrote with Neal Torrey, "Help Wanted." (

Rich and Valerie O'Brien, two highly respected and versatile musicians, often accompany RW Hampton, Red Steagall, and others, so it was a real treat to experience their "solo" duo performance of classic tunes from Gene Autry to Tex Ritter to music from Tin Pan Alley,  "Under Fiesta Stars" was beautiful, with Rich O'Brien's dazzling guitar work. He even backed up eighteen-year old trick roper, "Loop" Rawlins, who wowed the crowds throughout the festival wherever he was performing.

Some of the best was yet to come, as RW Hampton enthralled the audience with a medley from "Hey Little Cowboy" through "Do Not Forsake Me."  His impressions of John Wayne, Gary Cooper, and Jimmy Steweart couldn't dampen their
enthusiasm and when he closed with "Vaya Con Dios" dedicated to "our men and women overseas," the audience didn't want to let him go. (

And that's how Monterey is.  When you think you've heard the top, the best, the next act appears.  

They give the people what they want, and next Rich O'Brien accompanied the Sons of the San Joaquin.  Young Lonnie Hannah talked about how the group got started, and dedicated their first song, "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds" to "Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and my grandpa Lon Hannah." "Cool Water," "Red River Valley," and other classic favorites followed.

There were two other great shows Saturday night, reported elsewhere, "Wild and Wooly" with Tom Russell and Andrew Hardin, Wylie & The Wild West, and Paul Zarzyski, and a western dance featuring Wylie & the Wild West.

Sunday started off with an inspiring Cowboy Church that included Eli Barsi, Jesse Ballantyne, RW Hampton, Dennis Gaines, Wylie Gustafson, Rich & Valerie O'Brien, and Ranger Rick Law.  Eli Barsi offered a song she and Doris Daley wrote, "Riding for the Maker's Brand."  Other "ministers of music" performed, including Jesse Ballantyne with the reverent "Mary's on the Meadow," and RW Hampton, who sang Stuart Hamblin's "My Heart Can Sing."

Dennis Gaines, who quipped that he is more usually asked "to serve as a bad example," moved all those gathered with his poetic tribute to his mother, "A Life Well Lived."  Wylie Gustafson sang the traditional "Angel Band," ("O bear me away on your snow white wings to my immortal home") as RW Hampton sang along. Rich and Valerie O'Brien played during the offering, and prayers were offered for Jon Chandler and his wife who was taken ill. Jon had been scheduled to appear at the festival. A scripture reading from Luke and Ranger Rick Law's sermon, "The Secret of the Good Samaritan" followed, and Eli Barsi led all in the final "Amazing Grace."

Karen (and most of) Dennis Gaines. Karen surprised Dennis
 by flying in from Texas at the last minute.

There was still plenty of entertainment left for all, and the round-robin of songwriters, "Sure, I Wrote it All By Myself," with Dave Stamey, Eli Barsi, Jesse Ballantyne, Juni Fisher, and Brenn Hill maintained the high quality of other sessions.

In the first round, Brenn Hill got things moving with his chart-busting "Pickup Truck Café," and Eli Barsi followed with "Riding Home to You." Dave Stamey's great guitar playing was fueled by his exceptional energy in a breathtaking
performance of "Buckaroo Man."  Juni Fisher changed the pace with her moving Irish song inspired by her fourth great grandmother, and Jesse Ballantyne serenaded the crowd with "Our Ranges are Changing."

Brenn Hill and Dave Stamey exchanged light-hearted banter and Hill impressed the crowd with "Wasatch in the Spring."  Eli Barsi sang "Rainbows," adapted from Doris Daley's poem that celebrates the colors of the West.  Dave Stamey reached back in history and crooned a pioneer tale, "Turning of the Wheels," and Juni Fisher delighted everyone with her "Sideshow Romance," that features the Crocodile Man, the Monkey-Faced Woman, and Tattooed Matilda. Jesse Ballantyne came around with a song for the old cowboys he's known who have paid a price, "...never did I make room for growing old...," called "Winter Camp."

Next Brenn Hill satisfied the audience requests for "Bitter Creek," and Eli Barsi followed with the fitting "Just Call Him Cowboy."  Dave Stamey joked that "you have to have bandit songs in a minor key, so I was going to write a song about a California bandit" and took a poke at a former governor, much to the delight of many Californians in the crowd. He said he decided to write it about outlaw Joaquin Marietta, because he does a lot of family shows and "the emotion doesn't run so high."  Juni Fisher was back with a song "about a man who rode off for a woman who got left behind," and Jesse
Ballantyne drew on his own family history for the closing "Grandfather's Brand."

Back on the Sunday open mike, Jim Cardwell was telling an Elko story; John Silveira perfomed his signature poem, "The Coat," Janice Gilbertson did her moving New Year poem, "Night Time's Promise"; Scott Collins told about the "Flatbed"' Susan Parker, inspired by the wild horse sanctuary where she rides, offered, "Painted Pony"; and Jim Boné recited Doris Daley's "Bones," accompanied by the outstanding jalisco harp player William Faulkner.

Jim Cardwell

Scott Collins and John Silveira

Pat Richardson and Susan Parker

The festival overflows with talent.

Back on the main stage Sunday afternonn, another fabulous show took place, "Can You Top This?," with a dream team of Cowboy Poets: Wallace McRae, Paul Zarzyski, Jim Ross, Dennis Gaines, and Pat Richardson.  Incoming Festival Director Mick Vernon gave a warm welcome to emcee Paul Zarzyski, citing his respect for his "intelligence, heart, and soul."

Dennis Gaines brought down the house with his dangerously hilarious "Spandex Cowboy," and just saying that he ends up in pink tights can't begin to tell the whole story, or the reaction of the other poets who gently but determinedly edged their chairs to the other side of the stage during the wild performance.  Pat Richardson is one of the few men who could follow that performance, and the audience didn't have time to recover from his "old calvalry" joke before
they were assaulted, happily, with his "Pony Eggs" poem.  Jim Ross held his own with his perfect sense of timing and impressive recitation of his poem about cowboy "hot shots."  Wallace McRae regaled all with stories of his love for theatre acting, and with his own timing perfectly tuned, delivered one of his funniest poems, "The Debut," or, as he says they pronounce it in his native Montana, "De Butt."

Paul Zarzyski reminded Pat Richardson it was Sunday, but to no avail, as Richardson did his famous "Donner Party" poem, much to the audience's delight. More hilarity followed, including Wallace McRae doing the poem for which he is reluctantly best-known, "Reincarnation," simultaneously acted out by Paul Zarzyski, and Zarzyski's performance of his own modern classic, "The Heavyweight Champion Pie-Eatin' Cowboy of the West."  (

Pat and Jane Richardson

So much more went on in Monterey. It always does. The best way to not miss the great entertainment is to be there. The seventh annual event will take place December 9-11, 2005.

above report by Margo Metegrano

Jam Session photos

Dave Stamey
Photo by Dixie Dixon

Mick Vernon
Photo by Dixie Dixon

Sixth Annual Monterey Festival Dedicated
to Retiring Founder Gary Brown

by Marcia Dickey

The sixth annual Monterey Cowboy Poetry and Western Music Festival began on a bitter-sweet note with the announcement that this year's festival was being dedicated to the founder, Gary Brown, who was retiring from the committee. Gary and his wife Sherrill were given a standing ovation by the audience as they walked on stage to receive parting gifts from Mick Vernon, MCP&MF President.  Both Gary and Sherrill were presented with a plaque that outlined their many contributions to the festival. In addition, Gary was presented with a belt buckle inscribed with the word "founder." As he opened the gift he thanked the committee and quipped that "he had always wanted to own a Volkswagen hubcap."

The Monterey festival is know to have set the standard for excellence for cowboy poetry and western music venues but this year they raised the bar.  Headliners at the festival read like the Who's Who of cowboy poetry and western music.

Western music artists featured this year were Ian Tyson, Sons of the San Joaquin, Don Edwards, Tom Russell, Wylie & The Wild West, R W Hampton, Dave Stamey, Gillette Brothers and Eli Barsi. Audiences were also treated to outstanding performances by nationally acclaimed poets like Wally McRae, Paul Zarzyski, Jim Ross, Dennis Gaines and Pat Richardson.

One of the many highlights of the Saturday open mike session was the participation by several elementary school children from Colton School in Monterey. Those of us who love western music know that without attracting young people the venue will eventually die out. If the talent and enthusiasm of these students is any indication of what is going on out there, we have nothing to worry about.  A stand out performance was delivered by Colton second grader Dhani James who has been performing western music since he was three years old and is currently working on his (get this) second CD.

If there were an emcee's Hall of Fame then both Dennis Gaines and Paul Zarzyski would surely be inducted. Dennis Gaines kept the audience laughing at Friday night's show both with his poetry and imaginative introductions of performers. Saturday night's emcee, Paul Zarzyski's animated delivery kept the audience hanging on his every word. Of course, some of that could have been attributed to the fact that Paul can talk faster than his beloved '71 Monte Carlo can drive.

Stellar performances were also given by Juni Fisher, Rich and Valerie O'Brien, Andrew Hardin (extraordinary guitarist), Bruce Forman, Dennis Agajanian, Jesse Ballantyne, R W Hampton, Brenn Hill, Jim Ross and Ranger Rick.

Open mike performers included many of the regulars at festivals like the Lost Canyon Rangers, Paul Hendel, George Dickey, Mike Tcherkassky, and poet Jim CardwellMike "Loop" Rawlins entertained crowds before every show with his bullwhip maneuvers.

An informal jam session took place on the mezzanine of the hotel after the show. What a treat it was for those of us present when Marilyn Tuttle, a western music legend in her own right, performed a duet of "Faded Love" with western music singer and songwriter Paul Hendel.

It's hard to  imagine how the Monterey Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival can get any better than this year's but given the track record of the committee, we know it will. Circle the first weekend in December on your calendar right now and reserve it for the seventh annual festival. You won't be disappointed.

© 2005, Marcia Dickey

A version of this article appeared in the January/February 2005 issue of Rope Burns



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