Thursday, December 4, 2008
“Cowboy is a verb,” says Mick Vernon, artistic director of the 10th Annual Monterey Cowboy Poetry & Music Festival, who, in addition to serving as deputy chief of the Seaside Police, has spent time on ranches cowboying.
Vernon has been enamored of everything cowboy since donning a Stetson in junior high; he has played a leadership role in the festival for the past six years.
The festival honors our Spanish-influenced western heritage that, in Monterey, began in the 17th century with the vaqueros (the Spanish word for cowboy, from which, some say, “buckaroo” evolved as an English mispronunciation). The very best performers, musicians, singers, storytellers and poets of the genre, in addition to artisans presenting an extensive western art and gear show, will gather in a three-day jubilee to celebrate the cowboy way locally this weekend. Their purpose is both to entertain and to educate those who may not be aware of the tradition, and the integrity, honor and independence embodied in the lifestyle of today’s cowboy.
Cowboy music and poetry all pertains to the cowboy life and observations from a cowboy or rancher’s perspective. Juni Fisher, singer-songwriter and festival performer, expands this definition by writing about the western experience through the eyes of cavalry mules, Chinese opium dealers, flamenco dancers and caged roosters.
Humor is a hallmark of the genre, but it has a serious side too. “Because the life can be so solitary,” Vernon says, “cowboys don’t talk much. They’re private people. They may appear to be without deep emotion, but they’re not. The poetry allows them to express emotions about love or sorrow that they’re stoic about in daily life.”
Poets on this year’s roster include Baxter Black, who frequently appears on NPR radio broadcasts as the Cowboy Poet, and Paul Zarzyski, a master wordsmith who distinguishes himself by writing in free verse. Other performers include Sourdough Slim, well-known singer, humorist and specialist in cowboy lore.
Hawaiian cowboys (or paniolos) are also being represented in the lineup, with performances by Leabert Lindsey, award-winning singer of traditional Hawaiian music, with slack-key guitarist Marcus Wong Yuen and bassist Bobby Pini. This year is a first for trick roper James Barrerra, whose energy, speed and elaborate roping feats have earned him the description of “a walking, talking special effect.”
Other award-winning performers include Patty Clayton, Dave Stamey, Linda Kirkpatrick, Mike Beck, Jay Snider, Stardust Cowboy, and Lone Prairie, whose combined talents include storytelling, poetry, singing and playing guitar, ukele, accordion and harmonica, yodeling and vaudevillian-type comedy. In addition, the schedule includes a silent auction and Cowboy Church.
There is also an educational component, coordinated by Carol Lenters, which culminates in a program for some 500 fourth-graders from local schools. For the past two months, students have been studying western history and the life of modern-day ranchers. As part of the festival, performers visit the schools to teach the children about cowboy singing and poetry. And, in a perfect finale to the educational program, several of the children, under the guidance of musical director Ellen Collard, perform their original songs and poetry at an open mic during the festival.
Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival happens Friday through Sunday, Dec. 5-7 at the Monterey Conference Center, 1 Portola Plaza, Monterey. $15-$35/event; $200/festival pass. (800) 722-9652.www.montereycowboy.org.