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14th Annual Monterey Cowboy Poetry & Music Festival and Western Art and Gear Show, Monterey, California, December


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December, 2012
14th 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.)

  Main report by Susan Parker

Photos below by Leslie Hause


"The Legacy of the Reata," by Marti Miller Hubbell,

Record-breaking rains could not keep away the fans and it certainly did not dampen the talent of the all-star lineup at the Monterey or the enthusiasm of the audiences. The event featured
an all-star lineup that included Juni Fisher, Paul Zarzyski, Waddie Mitchell, Sons of the San Joaquin, Marian DiCicco, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Ed Peekeekoot, Dave Stamey, Brenn Hill, Gary Allegretto, Wally McRae, The Old West Trio, Kent Rollins, Belinda Gail, Carolyn Martin, and Adrian.

Poet and reciter Susan Parker offers her impressions of the event:

The promise of rain hung in the 5:00 morning dampness. Ghost-like, Wednesday night’s full moon peeked through a gossamer veil of silver clouds, before slipping below the horizon for a day of rest. I packed my luggage and Luchessi boots into the back of the car and headed west on I-10. Twenty minutes out of town, red lights atop windmills, standing like sentinels in the windmill farm, blinked as bright as a string of Christmas tree lights against the inky black San Jacinto mountain range.

Since moving to Palm Desert, when I head westward, I prefer to leave town at this early hour to beat the Pasadena commute traffic. However, about 40 minutes from home, rain began to fall in bucket loads, bringing with it drivers who have forgotten the skills required for driving in the rain. The result was numerous accidents along the first 150 miles, making my travel time four mind-numbing hours for the short distance.

By the time I’d reached Santa Clarita, where I stopped for a bowl of oatmeal to fortify my growling stomach, the rain began to abate. I was still concerned, however, about wind conditions through the Grapevine pass. But the weather gods had heard my prayers. The howling wind had softened to a mere meow, and the rain had stopped.

Leaving I-5 at Lost Hills, I drove across Hwy. 46 in quiet enjoyment of the pastoral scenery laid out in front of me. I have always wondered how Lost Hills got its name because the rolling hills are quite evident, and delightful to drive through. I’ve driven this route several times over the years and love the open spaces. But this time I was disturbed to see the once serene beauty of open land being planted with grape vines. Guess the wine industry is flourishing.

I’d programmed the GPS for the shortest, most scenic route, so I left Hwy. 101 at Gonzales to wind my way through farm country. With flooding rains from previous days, the slight breeze was fragrant with damp, rich soil and fertilizer. The winding, undulating road dropped me down into Del Rey Oaks before arriving in Monterey. I have been to Monterey many, many times. However, this was the first time I’d experienced the quaintness of this particular area. It was charming, with its old, well-cared for homes built in the 40s and 50s, many Spanish-style, with red tile roof tops.

At last, after 9 ˝ hours, I arrived safely at the Portola Hotel & Spa, my home for the next three nights. Glancing around, not one cowboy hat was in sight. But I knew that soon the hotel would be overflowing with men and women dressed in jeans, boots, and hats, all set to enjoy some of the best cowboy poetry and music in the genre.

The Monterey festival is very special to me; actually, my favorite festival of them all. It was here, in 2003, that I discovered the world of cowboy poetry. I was awestruck when I heard Paul Zarzyski, Wally McRae, and Virginia Bennett reciting their poetry, poetry that had been crafted by hands toughened from years of ranching, riding the rodeo circuit, and cowboying, with hearts softened by love for the horse and the land. This year I would again hear the works of Paul and Wally. Virginia no longer recites at the festivals, but she is always with us in spirit.

Also this year we would be missing the bright smile and homemade cookies of Lisa Vernon, wife of Mick Vernon, former festival board member, president, and artistic director. Lisa’s passing in October of 2012 was unexpected. Sunday’s Cowboy Church was dedicated to Lisa.

Paul Zarzyski kicked off Friday night’s show by dedicating his first two poems in memory of Lisa. Paul’s poems, “Words Growing Wild in the Woods,” and “Monte Carlo Express,” were Lisa’s favorites.

Paul’s performances never disappoint me. When I heard him in 2003 reciting his work at break-neck speed, I remember thinking, How does he do that? I thought the same thing again. How DOES he recite his work so fast without stumbling over the words? But then he slowed down for the sweetness of “Bucking Horse Moon,” allowing me to ponder each word of the poem, crafted to perfection.

photo by Leslie Hause
Adrian and Juni Fisher

Paul was followed by my favorite cowgirlfriend, Juni Fisher. Juni is the “best of the best,” in my opinion. Her song, “The Ambler Saddle,” which is about Jerry Ambler’s saddle, is such a fascinating story, told from the view point of a well-traveled saddle. While she performed some of my favorite western songs, I really love it when she sings the bluesy, “Woman Be Wise,” while strumming the ukulele. But my favorite is, “Who They Are,” a song she co-wrote with Waddie Mitchell.

Sons of the San Joaquin closed out the evening with a few of their all-time favorites, warming the hearts and souls of the audience.

And so the stage was set for a wonderful weekend of talent, some who’ve performed at Monterey many times, along with a few talented newcomers to the Monterey stage. Though it was a wet weekend, with occasional torrential downpours and frequent spittings of drizzle, the spirits of the attendees were not discouraged. The poetry and music maintained the high standards for which Monterey has come to be known.

photo by Leslie Hause
Ed Peekeekoot

Another highlight for me was Ed Peekeekoot, an extraordinary, multi-instrumentalist hailing from British Columbia. Ed regaled us with his songs and stories written to honor his Cree heritage. Ed can play both the guitar and the banjo at the same time, holding the guitar between his knees and the banjo in his hands, strumming or picking one, then the other. Haunting melodies lightened the air as he played the Native American Indian flute.

photo by Leslie Hause

Always a crowd favorite, Yvonne Hollenbeck, shared her poetry and stories written from the heart of a ranch woman. Adrian, also known as the Buckaroo Girl, belted out songs that would make any bronc quiver in his iron shoes. Marian DiCicco, a soulful singer and songwriter from the state of Washington, was new to the stage this year. I have no doubt she will be back. Kent Rollins, poet, storyteller, and chuck wagon cook, delighted the audience with his stories.

photo by Leslie Hause
Gary Allegretto

Gary Allegretto’s harmonica playing was beyond compare. He can make that harmonica sing! And he is a pretty darn good guitar player to boot. His excellent musicianship wowed the audience. His original song, “Untrainable,” lends itself to Gary’s adventurous life, with a hearty touch of wanderlust. In addition to his performances, Gary presented a workshop on how to play the harmonica.

photo by Leslie Hause
Juni Fisher, Carolyn Martin, and Dave Martin

photo by Leslie Hause
Belinda Gail with the Sons of the San Joaquin

Other excellent musicians included Belinda Gail, a five-time WMA award winner for Female Performer of the Year; award winning singer-songwriter Brenn Hill,, whose dedication to preserving the music of the American West was evidenced by his soul-filled original songs; Carolyn Martin, a 2011 Texas Western Swing Hall of fame inductee; and Old West Trio, winners of the AWA 2012 Will Rogers Award for the Best Western Group of the Year.

photo by Leslie Hause
Annie Lydon and Dave Stamey

Dave Stamey rounded out the list of musicians. There isn’t much to be said about Dave that hasn't been said, except that if he is ever in your area, do not miss him. He has won more awards than I can list here. He headlines everywhere. His musical and songwriting talents are awesome. He is an excellent entertainer. On top of all that, he is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He remains humble, in spite of his fame.

photo by Leslie Hause
Waddie Mitchell

The two final poets were
Waddie Mitchell and Wally McRae. Waddie is just such a darn good writer whose name is, most likely, the number one person most people think of when they hear the words, “cowboy poetry.” While I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Waddie personally, his poetry always gives me something to think about. I especially like his serious side that leaves me in tears.

Saving the best for last is Wally McRae. Wally holds a special place in my heart because he is one of the first three cowboy poets I ever heard recite. I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with Wally a bit, absorbing his words of wisdom, and feeling his pain as he talks about the plight of the rancher and the western way of life. Though he likes to call himself a curmudgeon, there is a heart the size of a large sack of gold hidden behind that cowboy’s vest. He is a real sweetie; though don’t tell him I said so.

photo by Leslie Hause
Saturday night swing dance with Richard Chon and the Saddle Cats
joined by Juni Fisher, Belinda Gail, Dave and Carolyn Martin

I can’t talk about the Monterey Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival without mentioning the fabulous vendors whose wares were for sale at the Cowboy Art and Western Marketplace. The selection of merchandise was varied and top quality. I managed to find a couple of hand-woven rugs I couldn’t live without.

Leslie Hause
Friday night jam session

Leslie Hause
Board Members, Volunteers and Committee Chairpersons

Finally, the Festival Board of Directors and their band of volunteers did an excellent job of keeping everything running smoothly. Next year’s Festival will be held from December 13 – 15, 2013. Put it at the top of your “Must Attend” list. See you there!

photo by Leslie Hause
Festival President Dee Dee Garcia White enjoying the Saturday morning breakfast show.


photo by Leslie Hause
Young peoples' program

photo by Leslie Hause
A booth at the popular art and gear show





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