Cowboy Poetry and Western Life

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Monterey (California) December


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December, 2009
11th 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.)

Photos below by Paulette Tcherkassky,
photo by Colleen Andrus



Every event has its own character, and at the Monterey Cowboy Poetry & Music Festival and Western Art and Gear Show ( there's always a sense of being close to the heart of the region's deep cowboy, equine, literary, art, and agricultural roots. The event maintains its long-held reputation for presenting the "best of the best" cowboy poets, Western musicians, artists, and artisans. The eleventh annual, held in December, 2009, had all that, and something more: a bruised, but special heart.

The talent was stellar, with featured performers including Dave Stamey, Don Edwards, Waddie Mitchell, Belinda Gail, Hot Club of Cowtown, Sons of the San Joaquin, the Gillette Brothers, Dennis Gaines, Doris Daley, Pat Richardson, Jess Howard, Mike Lopez, Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum, Lacy J. Dalton, and J Parson.

photo by Paulette Tcherkassky,
Richard Chon with the Sons of the San Joaquin

There are seven main shows over the weekend, and just one of the good things about the Monterey event is that you never have to miss a show or rush about to see one. There are no simultaneous shows, and everything happens in the convenient, well-located conference center. Everyone, including performers, falls in with the friendly and comfortable atmosphere, before, during, and after the shows.

photo by Paulette Tcherkassky,
Paulette Tcherkassky, Michael Tcherkassky, Jerry Brooks, and Waddie Mitchell

One of the event's core programs is an educational outreach to schools that begins in the fall, with workshops and ranch trips, to introduce young people to "the cowboy way of life." Activities include learning about horseshoeing, saddle making, horse grooming and tack, cattle sorting, carriage driving, roping, chuck wagon cooking, poetry and music. Poets and musicians visit the schools during the event, and students present their own poetry during the festival.

The youth poets appear on the stage in the top-notch Western Art and Gear Show, along with other performers, including regional and visiting poets and musicians. Premier cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell took the small stage at one point and entranced his audience with thoughtful talk of cowboy life and poetry and stories, along with flawless recitations of classic poems in a warm performance that connected with every listener. The stage area and the Art and Gear Show are always both well attended.

The festival runs smoothly, all made possible by dedicated volunteers and an active Festival Board. Opening night, a special presentation was made to past Artistic Director (and poet and musician) Mick Vernon, involved with the festival since its beginnings, with recognition also given to Lisa Vernon.

photo by Paulette Tcherkassky,
Doris Daley, Jerry Brooks, and Paulette Tcherkassky

Among the program highlights was the opening show, "The 4 D's," a star-studded stage with the excellent poetry of Doris Daley and Dennis Gaines and the unmatchable music of two Western music greats, Don Edwards and Dave Stamey. Dave Stamey is festival favorite and the crowd was on its feet at the end of the show, insisting on an encore. Dave obliged with "The Bandit Joaquin."

photo by Paulette Tcherkassky,
The Gillette Brothers

"O Brothers, Where Art Thou?" was an inspired piece of programming, with the "bad boy of cowboy poetry," Pat Richardson, hosting and performing with his brother poet Jess Howard (let them explain the names); the dazzling Gillette Brothers; and the outstanding Sons of the San Joaquin, who were joined by former band member and fiddle phenomenon Richard Chon of the Saddle Cats.

photo by Paulette Tcherkassky,
Brothers Pat Richardson (second from left) and Jess Howard with their brother Andy Richardson
and sister Taffy, who calls herself the "white sheep" of the family.

But there was more than a large and excellent event going on in December. As the event opened, it was announced that it was being dedicated to widely admired singer and songwriter Curly Musgrave, who had been engaged in a long and valiant fight against one health challenge after another, and who was in grave condition with a recently-diagnosed aggressive brain tumor. A sympathetic wave of emotion was felt throughout the crowd; Monterey was a kind of "home" to Curly. It was the first venue where he and his long-time partner, Belinda Gail, performed. Many in the crowd would have called themselves friends of Curly.

Sunday morning's Cowboy Church service was particularly poignant and meaningful to many because of Curly Musgrave's serious condition. Belinda Gail impressed all, not only with her excellent performances, but also with the grace and strength she showed and shared, and simply with her honoring of the commitment to the festival by appearing. Few were aware of just how brave she was, as the show went on, with "Hot Coffee & A Campfire," with performances by Waddie Mitchell, J Parson, the Hot Club of Cowtown, and, again, Belinda Gail.

Belinda had learned, just before the program, that Curly had died. But she went on with her performance and insisted that the show should continue. As it came to an end, she delivered the sad news to the audience, immediately full of sad hearts. As can be counted on in the cowboy poetry and music world, friends, fans, and performers gathered together to offer all of the help they could for Belinda and for Curly's family. The 2009 festival won't be forgotten by any who were there. (Find a tribute to Curly Musgrave, with many photos and links, here.)

photo by Paulette Tcherkassky,
Pat Richardson and Belinda Gail

Visit the festival web site,, for information about the 12th annual Monterey Cowboy Poetry & Music Festival and Western Art and Gear Show, which takes place December 10-12, 2010.

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


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