“You’re not a real cowgirl”, the stranger said. “Your cell phone gave you away.”
Well, I did have on my ‘cowboy’ hat – the one I bought in Denver several years ago, and the one with the ‘souvenirs’ from my volunteer days with the National Forest Service and the National Park Service, and the feather hanging beneath the brim. Other than that I looked like a typical tourist at Old Tucson Studios – the place where so many Westerns were filmed – and giant stars of the old cowboy movies walked the streets and play-acted in the saloons there.
Some locals say don’t go there, it’s just not the same as it was before the fire. Yes, much of it was destroyed by fire, and it was rebuilt. But for the unsuspecting visitor, it’s quaint and full of history. And yesterday was the first day of this year’s Cowboy Festival, where history and art and cowboy music meet.
I was carried back to my childhood days – many days of watching black and white TV films of Roy Rogers, Tex Ritter, Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, Lash LaRue ( I just love that name!), Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, and Gene Autry. And Pick Temple. (Well, he wasn’t a cowboy movie star. He just hosted those shows for the kids on WTOP in Washington, DC. Those of you reading this who knew me back then, you know who I’m talking about! http://kidshow.dcmemories.com/pick1.html)
I think I’ve always wanted to be a cowgirl. When I was little my mother made cowgirl outfits for me and my sister for Christmas. We opened our packages of denim skirts and vests with felt fringes, plaid flannel shirts, cowboy hats, cap pistols, and rain boots with steer heads on the front. We were quite something! What wonderful gifts for aspiring cowgirls. I went into one of the shops along the dusty streets and found just the shirt I wanted. It said ‘cowgirl’ on the front and to wear it would make it so. Unfortunately, the style I wanted wasn’t in my size. But in my heart I know I’m a real cowgirl, even if I don’t get to be ‘official’.
The highlight for me was listening to old and new cowboy and Western music songs. I was intrigued by the songs of Jon Messenger who sang of personal experience on a ranch in the ‘heel’ of New Mexico, down at the border. They offer a taste of the real place and the real characters who lived and worked there, in the modern era. And there were other artists like Bill Ganz, and the Mountain Saddle Band who sang some of the old traditional cowboy songs as well as some of their own compositions. These singers and songwriters are preserving the history of the west in poetry and song, including the history of the songs we already know and love today.
I would say that the real highlight of the day was listening to Rex Allen, Jr. He is a true Arizona native, and the son of another true, and famous, Arizona native. He grew up knowing the singing cowboys, such as Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers. He is of my generation, so hearing stories of his experiences with the stars of the movies I watched on TV was fascinating.
When I entered the Grand Palace for the concert I had in my hand a Sonoran hotdog, with the ‘works’ (no other way to eat it!), and looked around for a table. At first I asked to share a table with a couple of ladies who said I could sit there if I could behave myself. I told them ‘no way’! They let me sit there anyway. But upon more observation I noticed a table at the front where there was a couple sitting, and there was an empty chair. I audaciously asked if I could sit with them. They said ‘sure’.
Then as the concert began, Rex Allen, Jr. introduced the man sitting at my table (Yikes!). He was Hal Spencer, son of the original Sons of the Pioneers founder, Tim Spencer. I told him I didn’t realize I was sitting with a celebrity – wow! I didn’t ask for his autograph, but I did get Rex Allen, Jr.’s.
The day at the Old Tucson Cowboy Festival ended as all good things should, with a piece of chocolate and pecan fudge. What could be better than that?!
Here is a video of the Sons of the Pioneers singing one of my favorite Western songs, because it speaks to me of my own journey. Bill Ganz sang this one well, but nothing beats the Sons of the Pioneers…