Monterey Cowboy Festival

Vaqueros gather to celebrate poetry, song, and life on the ranch and range.

AN AMERICAN ART FORM: In discussion of what major cultural genres flowered first in the United States, it is hard for the discussees not to alight first upon jazz, and then perhaps comic books, and a few other areas that are more up for debate. (Did the screwball comedy start here, or is it an offshoot of European vaudeville?) But to the roster of mind- and heart-growing forms born here we add cowboy poetry and songs of the range. The American West, with its stretches always described as "vast," inspired the people on horseback traveling great distances to spin yarns, tell tall tales, and fashion a particular kind of poetry that was a straight-up paean to a life lived under the Big Sky. But that poetry did not fade away as the West was settled (and settled and settled); there are still true-hearted practitioners of the popular form, a form enjoyed both in private domestic settings and larger gatherings. Such a gathering is set for Monterey over the weekend ahead of Thanksgiving, and if range ways, with its fences and horses and crisp air and distant mountains, appeals, then clip-clop down to the 16th Annual Monterey Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival.

NOV. 21 THROUGH 23: As you might expect, Monterey's wayback draw for vaqueros is a focus of the fest, which will include the "music, poetry, and storytelling" of artists who are able to aptly capture place, vocation, and the soaring of spirit. The California cowboy's life -- and that of the cowgirl as well -- is a life tied to both the traditions of Mexico and the United States, so look for a unique Golden State take on that open-range existence. Beyond the poetry and tunes, look for a Vaquero breakfast, a marketplace, a dance, and an open mic event. Performers like Juni Fisher, Cow Bop, and Verlon Thompson will be there, and there shall be a Cowboy Meet and Greet with "some of the performers." Good stuff, and especially good if you feel as though your citified heart has lost some of the expansive, stars-overhead hope in the hustle/bustle of your day-to-day.

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