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Monterey (California) December


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December, 2008
10th Annual Monterey Cowboy Poetry & Music Festival and Western Art and Gear Show  Monterey, California

(See our feature about the Monterey Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival here.)



The Monterey Cowboy Poetry & Music Festival and Western Art and Gear Show has long held the reputation of presenting the "best of the best" cowboy poets, Western musicians, artists, and artisans. The tenth annual event in December, 2008, was a grand celebration and example of the popular event's aim for excellence. Even winter stepped aside for the event, and clear, summer-like weather was an added attraction for visitors from all over the country.

Featured performers, including Baxter Black, Dave Stamey, Paul Zarzyski, Wallace McRae, Mike Beck, Jay Snider, Juni Fisher, Sourdough Slim, Linda Kirkpatrick, and Patty Clayton made for one top-notch show after another. Performers and audience alike appreciate the unique ambiance of the Monterey event: there are no concurrent shows, and all of events take place in one comfortable venue, with a wide choice of restaurants and attractions nearby. There's no dashing from show to show, and no need to choose among shows. The well-planned schedule leaves plenty of time for mixing among performers and audience, for a weekend that is both entertaining and relaxing, even for those on stage.

 photo by Sandi Snider
Jay Snider and Baxter Black

The impressive Western Art and Gear Show, with a stage for scheduled performances and open mic opportunities, included vendors such as Jeremiah Watt, Joelle Smith Western Art, Kansas Saddlery, and Dee Dee Garcia White (who also coordinates the show). The Silent Auction was overflowing with items from salsa to saddles, with many items from the surrounding area that reflected its rich cowboy, art, and agricultural history.

Juni Fisher meets with her fans

The region's proud vaquero history touches many parts of the festival. An event highlight was the showing of the latest films from Susan Jensen and Paul Singer, who explore vaquero history and horsemanship and its influence through their DVD series ( Their fourth film, Houlihan, traces the journey of the vaqueros and buckaroos to the Northern Range in Montana and Wyoming, with footage of contemporary ranch families, horsemen, and cowboys (including Randy Rieman and Jesse Ballantyne), along with historical context through stills and narration, and great Western music from Dave Stamey, Wylie & the Wild West, Ian Tyson, Cowboy Celtic, and others. The fifth film, Los Primeros—The First Vaqueros had its first showing at the Monterey festival. It looks at the fifteen centuries of Vaquero roots and the influence on the Californio vaquero, and was filmed in Spain, Mexico and the American West.


The festival kicked off on Friday evening with Baxter Black, Juni Fisher, and Linda Kirkpatrick setting a high bar for the cowboy poetry, storytelling, and music that was to come, in a show called "Keepin' it Western." All day Saturday, there was one audience—pleasing show after another. Jay Snider, Sourdough Slim, and Linda Kirkpatrick started the day with the theme of "Chasin' the Herds." Jay Snider's standout recitations of classics, including Bruce Kiskaddon's "When They've Finished Shipping Cattle in the Fall" and Luther Lawhon's "The Good Old Cowboy Days" were memorable. 

photo by Linda Kirkpatrick
Linda Kirkpatrick, Jay Snider, and Patty Clayton

From Montana, top poets Wallace McRae and Paul Zarzyski got started with an enactment of Wally's poem, "Reincarnation," and then they took their art to the heights, particularly with Wally's "Finn Parkins" and Paul's "Hunting," in the "Ridin' the Cowpoke Cosmos" show. Everything went up for grabs when Artistic Director, musician, and poet Mick Vernon did his best to corral Dave Stamey, Baxter Black, Juni Fisher, and Paul Zarzyski in a round robin of "Storytellers." At times, those smart and funny mavericks turned the show into an often-hilarious, competitive, free-for-all. But whenever things settled down, there were compelling performances with stories, music, and poetry. The group responded (sometimes) to topics such as "Tell about a particular inspiration or peculiar circumstances that led to a poem or song"; "Tell about a song or poem you just couldn't finish until something changed that"; and "What's one poem or song that you'd like to perform that you don't do often?" Just some of the highlights: Baxter Black regaled all with stories, including the wandering, side-splitting tale of a "tough guy." Dave Stamey told about wanting to write a book about Billy the Kid, and sang the "four-minute song that started out as a 400-page novel." Juni Fisher recited an original poem, and later was joined on stage by Joe Hannah of the Sons of the San Joaquin, for a performance of their award-winning duet, "I Hope She'll Love Me." Paul Zarzyski cemented his "wild" reputation by singing a song he wrote, "Calico Fever Blues." When he could get a word in, Mick Vernon performed both poetry and music, including a moving performance of "Hour of the Wolf," dedicated to his late father-in-law, inspired by a Sioux legend told to him after his father-in-law's death.

Mick Vernon

Mick Vernon—who served admirably at the helm of the festival for four years since the retirement of respected event originator Gary Brown—turned his special affection for Hawaii into a celebration of music in two special shows with a focus on the Hawaiian "Paniolo" cowboys. (One of the DVDs in the Vaquero series, mentioned above, is "Holo, Holo Paniolo.") On Saturday, Hawaiian musicians Leabert Lindsey, Marcus Wong Yuen and Bobby Kini brought their cowboy culture back to where it started (with California vaquero cowboys traveling to Hawaii in the 1800s to gather their wild cattle). They shared their culture and impressive musicianship in a Saturday show, "Slack Key Talk Story." They were joined by Haou'li Yamaguchi, who performed beautiful traditional Hawaiian dance movements to some of the music, a mesmerizing experience for the appreciative audience.

The Saturday evening show, "Sagebrush Symphony," with Dave Stamey, Wallace McRae, Lone Prairie, and Jay Snider once again showcased the quality of the event. Oklahoma rancher Jay Snider entertained with poetry and a story of a poor cowboy, particularly timely. He dedicated his recitation of Bruce Kiskaddon's "Old Night Hawk" to the memory of Texas poet J.B. Allen. Wallace McRae held the crowd spellbound with his poetry and stories. His long-awaited book of prose will be released in January, 2009. Lone Prairie, a band from nearby Santa Cruz, performed their vintage Western music. Dave Stamey offered songs from his forthcoming CD, "Come Ride With Me," along with old favorites including "Spin That Pony," "Dusty Roads," and "Ruby Could Sing." After a long and enthusiastic standing ovation, he returned to for an electrifying performance of "The Bandit Joaquin." A happily crowded dance followed the show, with music by the Stardust Cowboys, known for their Western Swing music.

Utah writer and poet Rod Miller enjoyed the event

Open mic opportunities were available each day, and some of the notable performances by poets included those by Susan Parker, Janice Gilbertson, and Lisa King. Many others participated as well, with both poetry and music.

Paul Zarzyski and Susan Parker

Janice Gilbertson

Sunday morning began with a Cowboy Church service hosted by Don Fusilier, and the participation of Patty Clayton, Juni Fisher, Linda Kirkpatrick, Stardust Cowboys, Sourdough Slim, and Jay Snider. Proceeds from the service go to the Salvation Army, the festival's charitable partner. Later an "Old Timey Hour" took folks back to some good old days, with performances by Sourdough Slim, Stardust Cowboys, and Lone Prairie. Jay Snider, Linda Kirkpatrick, and Paul Zarzyski closed the poets' part of the event with "A Way With Words" session, filled with their poetry and that of others, including poems by Sunny Hancock, DW Groethe, and Robert Service.

Juni Fisher

The final show, "Monterey to Mauna Kea," once again featured the Hawaiian musicians and dancer Haou'li Yamaguchi along with trick roper James Barrera and award-winning singer and songwriter Patty Clayton. Patty, who lives part of the year in Hawaii, shared some Paniolo history and her own music. Juni Fisher joined her on her acclaimed song, "The Vaquero and Me," the story set in the 1800s, about a California woman and Hawaiian woman, both in love with the same vaquero.

Patty Clayton

Mike Beck, Monterey native, buckaroo, noted horseman, and outstanding songwriter closed the show in a set that was far too short for his many fans. He sang "In Old California," a song he wrote with Ian Tyson about legendary artist, writer and cowboy Joe Mora; "Don't Hurt My Heart," from a new EP recording; and a new song, "Livin' in the Arts is a Dangerous Thing." Mike, who often performs with his band, "The Bohemian Saints," leads the new generation of cowboy music.

Mike Beck

Young people are important part of the festival, and the organization's Educational Program aims to preserve the area's unique heritage of the original California cowboys (vaqueros) and to teach about the working ranches of today. Beginning in September the festival works with fourth grade students "for a ranch like experience where they learn about horseshoeing, saddle making, horse grooming and tack, cattle sorting, carriage driving, roping, chuck wagon cooking, poetry and music... students are encouraged to write their own cowboy poetry, Mexican corridos and rancheras and cowboy music." Many of those students presented their work in a standing-room-only open mic session at the festival. Festival performers visit the Monterey schools in the days preceding the festival.

photo by Linda Kirkpatrick
Linda Kirkpatrick visited the Monterey schools

photo by Linda Kirkpatrick
Leabert Lindsey, Marcus Wong Yuen and Bobby Kini visited the Monterey schools

For 2009, Mick Vernon hands the Artistic Director's reins to Dixie Dixon, past festival President and member of the popular musical group, Monterey Amigos. Frank Pinney, another long-time board member, takes over the presidency from Gerry Montgomery. Frank has long been associated with the Monterey Gathering and with the Salinas Rodeo California Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which is held each July.

Outgoing Board President Gerry Montgomery

New Board President Frank Pinney

Visit their web site,, for information about the festival, the Educational Program, and more.The site also offers posters and other items from past events. This year's poster was by 2008 Prix de West Great American Cowboy Award winner Carrie L. Ballantyne. Past years' poster artists include Joelle Smith, Buck Taylor, Linda Bark'karie, Jack Swanson, Vel Miller, and others.

"Californio Style" by Carrie L. Ballantyne

With ten years of quality to stand on, the future is bright for the Monterey Cowboy Poetry & Music Festival and Western Art and Gear Show. Plan to be there for the 11th annual festival, which takes place December 11-13, 2009.



See our feature about the Monterey Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival here.  


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