Cowboy Poetry and Western Life

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Salinas (California) July

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July, 2007
20th Annual California Rodeo Cowboy Poetry Gathering, "Cowboys & Cabernet" 
Salinas, California


  report and photos by Margo Metegrano, with additional photos by Janice Gilbertson and Frank Thornburgh


California Rodeo Cowboy Poetry Gathering
"Cowboys & Cabernet"


The California Rodeo Salinas Cowboy Poetry Gathering celebrated its twentieth anniversary in style in July, 2007, with "Cowboys and Cabernet," a sold-out, star-studded show.

Sourdough Slim
Photo by Frank Thornburgh

The show was emceed by the one-and-only Sourdough Slim, who also entertained, along with Red Steagall (performing with Danny Steagall and Rich O'Brien), Curly Musgrave and Belinda Gail, Pat Richardson, Susan Parker, and the Monterey County Free Libraries' Youth Poetry Contest Winners.

The event is always held in conjunction with the venerable California Rodeo—they pronounce it "ro-day-o" in that vaquero country—which marked its 97th year in 2007. The cowboy poetry gathering is headed by the impressive, energetic Festival Director Donna Vaughan, backed up by a friendly and efficient committee, and enthusiastically supported by the area community. Hospitality abounds.

Adding the "cabernet" to the cowboys, six area wineries offered tastings. An expansive Silent Auction offered everything from cowboy hats to cattle sorting clinics.

Janice Gilbertson at the Silent Auction
Photo by Frank Thornburgh

A popular and well-attended part of each year's gathering is the introductory open mike session, where poets and musicians perform before the entire audience. At this anniversary event, there were performances by Janice Gilbertson, Jim Cardwell, Frank Thornburgh, Al Visant, and others. One outstanding open mike performer is often chosen to appear on the following year's main show.

Frank Thornburgh performed at the open mike
Photo courtesy  Frank Thornburgh

Jim Cardwell performed at the open mike

Show emcee Sourdough Slim warmed up the packed house with his tales, jokes, and songs and kept the entire show moving smoothly. Throughout the show he performed a range of songs—some from his latest CD, Classics (—including "Give Me My Boots and Saddle," "High Noon," and his own "The Yodeling Cowboy."  Respected widely for his musicianship and his knowledge of cowboy music history, Sourdough Slim always has plenty of interest to say about the origins of the classic songs he performs.

Early in the show, the Monterey County Free Libraries' Youth Poetry Contest Winners were introduced. Erica Ray, age 6, stole the show with her performance of her poem, "The Land of Cowgirls."

Erica Ray
Photo by Frank Thornburgh

photo by Janice Gilbertson
Sourdough Slim and Erica Ray

Other Youth Contest winners were Julissa Hernandez, age 8, and Laura Alexander Melena, age 10 (who couldn't attend, but had her poem read by a previous year's winner).  The winning poems were included in the gathering program. See our feature about Erica Ray and read her winning poem here.

Poet Susan Parker, a standout from the 2006 open mike performers, was chosen to appear in the main show. Taking the stage as if she were born to it, she held the rapt attention of the enthusiastic audience with performances of her own work (including "Spiritual Source," "Late Born Foal," and "She Rode a Wild Horse") and recitations of poems by S. Omar Barker ("Ranch Wife") and Elizabeth Ebert ("Winter Fashions"). All were from her new CD, She Rode a Wild Horse.

Susan Parker
Photo by Frank Thornburgh

Susan Parker
Photo by Frank Thornburgh

Wildly popular California poet and humorist Pat Richardson, the "bad boy of cowboy poetry," followed. Though with his dead-pan delivery, he himself rarely cracks a smile, he somehow has a way of making the audience laugh even before he begins. He delivered some of his most-requested poems, including "Pony Eggs," "Suicide," and "The Queen of North Dakota," and went out with the classic that comes with a built-in, sure-to-get-your-attention ending, "My Brother." With his non-stop jokes and his dangerously humorous poetry, he lit the full house on fire with a lot of flat-out fun.

Sourdough Slim and Pat Richardson

Two other well-loved, crowd-pleasing Californians followed: Belinda Gail and Curly Musgrave. Their perfect harmonies make such beautiful music that they might be brother and sister, though these two top, multi-award-winning talents have been singing together for just four years. Besides being blessed with exceptional voices, both are accomplished musicians. They probably work harder developing their material than any other duo, and the results are pure audience enjoyment. Their repertoire is wide and varied, and they offered solo pieces (such as Curly's moving "Father to Father" and Belinda's sunny "I Want to be a Cowgirl Sweetheart"); complex original songs; and vintage and modern classics. Their audiences can never get enough, and this time was no exception. They ended their dazzling set with their spirited rendition of "Blue Montana Skies."

Curly Musgrave, Belinda Gail, and Erica Ray

Even after all of that impressive talent, there was much more to come: The consummate entertainer, Texas Poet Laureate, singer/songwriter, and top performer Red Steagall took the stage, accompanied by Danny Steagall and the legendary Rich O'Brien ('Brienrecordings.htm), who has received more Wrangler Awards for Western music than any other artist (12, so far).   

Red Steagall instantly captures an audience with his tales, which stretch from early trail driver days to today's working cowboys, poets, musicians, and others—many of whom have been featured on his popular radio show Cowboy Corner. Those tales, humorous stories, cowboy philosophy and words of wisdom (not always the same thing), poetry, and music delighted the audience. Among the highlights were his famous song "Here We Go Again," which has been recorded by over 60 artists, including Ray Charles, Ray Clark, and George Strait; "Grandmother's Trunk"; "Ride for the Brand"; and "The Fence That Me and Shorty Built."

photo by Janice Gilbertson
Festival Director Donna Vaughan and Red Steagall

A number of local celebrities and supporters were in attendance, including Monterey Cowboy Poetry & Music Festival and Western Art and Gear Show Festival Director Mick Vernon and past Salinas festival  Director and current Board Member Frank Pinney.


Susan Parker and Frank Pinney

Mick Vernon

The twentieth anniversary show was a rousing success, with its top-notch entertainment and festivities, its smooth operation, and its warm and friendly welcome for all. Can they top it? If the past history of this fine event holds true to course, it looks as if 2008 will be a great year.

Visit the official web site of the California Rodeo at to learn more about the event and the California Rodeo. 

See our 2006 report here.


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