The 20th annual Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival, hosted on Saturday and Sunday by the world-famous Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio in Newhall’s rustic Placerita Canyon and sponsored by Logix, is a wrap.
Final attendance tallies are not in yet from the City of Santa Clarita, which stages the event each year, but according to early estimates, several thousand fans braved temperatures in the 90s each day to soak up Western music and cowboy culture, including food (particularly the peach “Cowboy Cobbler” baked in Dutch ovens), fashion, books, posters, memorabilia, arts and crafts, equestrian gear and accessories and lots more.
“The 2013 Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival celebrated 20 years and included the best Western performers from across the country,” said Gail Ortiz, city spokesperson. “Our hosts, the Veluzat family, who own the ranch, helped make this twentieth year extra special by helping us welcome thousands of festival-goers to experience the thrill of walking the streets of a real, working movie ranch where some of the most iconic Western films were shot on location.”
Among those attending Saturday was former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (pictured below), who shot scenes for his most recent action film, “The Last Stand,” at Melody Ranch last year. Schwarzenegger and his entourage walked up and down the historic Main Street set checking out all the sights and sounds and wound up their visit with a walk through the Melody Ranch Museum, which is stuffed with artifacts from hundreds of movies and TV shows shot at the ranch over the decades.
“Fantastic — it’s always great to see,” Schwarzenegger told KHTS on his way out of the museum.
A few minutes later, local Western aficionados Tom White and Julie Ann Ream dedicated an antique upright piano and new displays to the museum, honoring veteran Western character actor, stuntman and musician Taylor “Cactus Mack” McPeters and the TV series “Gunsmoke” and “Deadwood.” Celebrities including actors Geri Jewell and Ralph Richeson of “Deadwood” were in attendance.
(Top row): the Riders’ Woody Paul; Hot Club’s Jake Erwin and Elana James; and Riders Joey the Cow-Polka King and Ranger Doug. In the foreground are Paul’s grandsons Oliver and Henry Braren; Rider Too Slim; and Hot Club’s Whit Smith.
The Music: It’s Not Country, It’s Cowboy
On both Saturday and Sunday, festival-goers could see Western music performed live on four different stages. On the main Melody Ranch Stage, headliners this year included The Saddle Cats, Sons of the San Joachin, Don Edwards, Hot Club of Cowtown and Riders in the Sky, who closed the festival Saturday with their only set of the weekend.
From the stage, Hot Club fiddle player Elana James told the standing-room-only audience she was working on a dude ranch in Arizona about 15 years ago, a few years before the band formed, when she first saw Riders in the Sky. She said the Riders’ famed fiddle player, Woody Paul, was a huge inspiration to her, and expressed her joy at sharing a bill with her heroes all these years later. After their set, James and her bandmates Whit Smith (guitar) and Jake Erwin (bass) watched Riders’ set, then the two bands got to meet and hang out backstage.
The location for literally thousands of movies, TV series and commercials, Melody Ranch was built in 1915, and William S. Hart, Gary Cooper, Tom Mix, Roy Rogers, Bill Boyd and John Wayne all shot pictures there in the early years.
Singing cowboy Gene Autry bought the ranch from B-movie studio Monogram Pictures in 1952 and kept it in production, but the main street’s weathered buildings were destroyed by fire in 1962.
In 1990 Autry sold the ranch to brothers Renaud and Andre Veluzat, who restored Main Street to its former glory, and built state-of-the-art sound stages for interior shots and non-Western productions. The Veluzat family first hosted the Cowboy Festival at Melody Ranch in 1994.