Montana cowgirl Stephanie Davis headlines Salinas Cowboy Poetry Gathering of strong women.
Thursday, July 15, 2004
One sure-fire way to distinguish oneself as an urban rube in a conversation is to casually ask a cowgirl, like fourth generation Montanan Stephanie Davis, how big her ranch is.
“You’re never supposed to ask how many acres,” Davis says. “It’s like asking how much money do you have in your bank account.”
Davis will say that hers is a small ranch outside of Red Lodge, Montana, and that she came by ranching fairly recently.
“I bought a small ranch with my royalties from songwriting,” she says. “I run a few cows and horses. I’m not a big-shot rancher by any means. Under a thousand cows around here is barely enough to scrape by on.”
And Davis suggests that she is just getting the hang of the true cowgirl mode of being, and that a reporter can be forgiven for insensitive questions.
“It’s fun learning the cowboy etiquette,” she says. “I’ve been around ranches my whole life, and I’ve always gone to cowboy poetry gatherings, but this is the first ranch that I’ve ever really lived and worked on.”
Modesty aside, Davis has got the goods as a singer, songwriter, poet, fiddler and guitarist.
She writes her songs in a 100-year-old homestead that she says “has flies in the summer and is freezing in the winter, but has good songwriting vibes.”
It must. Garth Brooks records her songs, and Davis has opened for his world tours. Garrison Keillor invites her to perform on Prairie Home Companion (and contributes guest vocals on one of her CDs). Davis has released two recordings, including Crocus In The Snow and River of No Return. And she continues to perform both music and poetry at cowboy poetry gatherings across the country.
Davis, who headlines the Salinas Rodeo’s 17th annual Cowboy Poetry Reading this week, says the appeal of cowboy poetry is nothing other than well-written stories.
“I just really like meat and potatoes rhyme that tells a story,” she says. “It’s a lot more difficult to do it well—it’s really an art form. I just love that a guy from New York City can listen to these stories and be moved. I don’t care who you are.”
Davis says that while the Hollywood cowboy image is persistent, there’s a real beauty to be derived from telling of the actual lifestyle.
“There’s a lot of humor from working around animals, and good stories,” she says. “A lot of people are in love with the West, but for me, the reality is a lot more interesting than the B-movie Western image.
“Real cowboys are fascinating. You go to these gatherings and you mingle with people who are making their living on horseback. It’s a chance to see a culture.”
Also performing at the Salinas gathering, and doing her best to intimidate the competition, is Darci Robertson, Miss Rodeo America. Robertson, who hails from Capitola, has a bio that shatters any myths of redneck rodeo riders. Aside from her fine horsemanship and other formidable accomplishments, the bio reads: “Darci plans to attend med school and law school at Stanford University.”
Along with Robertson, two other powerful females are performing. Virginia Bennett from Paso Robles brings 14 years of ranching and poetry experience to the event. Bennett, an author of two books, has performed on National Public Radio, on PBS, at the Smithsonian Institute, and at the big annual Elko, Nevada cowboy poetry fest, and has worked running horse and cattle ranches.
Then there’s the local favorite: eleven-year-old Alyssa Jayne from Salinas, who writes her own poetry and has been featured at national poetry gatherings since the age of eight.
But while the show seems dominated by women, there are a couple of up and coming boy cowboy poets performing among the cowgirls.
Mick Vernon, Seaside Police Department captain and president of December’s Monterey Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival, is a farrier, and author of The Lyrical Lawman. Rancher Scott Collins from Gonzales, last year’s open mike winner, performs at the main event for the first time.
Music will be provided by the Western Swing band the Saddle Cats. The band includes well-known country musicians: fiddler Richard Chon and steel guitarist Bobby Black.
Event organizer Frank Pinney says that people who show up to the event for the first time enjoy themselves so much that they tend to become regulars each year.
“Everybody has got a little cowboy in them,” Pinney says. “People appreciate the cowboy way of life, where your word is your bond and you stand up for what’s right. This kind of show reinforces that feeling.”The 17th Annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering takes place on Sat. July 17, at the Salinas Community Center, 940 N. Main St., Salinas. Open Mike is at 6pm; show starts at 7pm. $20/Adults; $8/Children 12 and under. 800-549-4989 or www.carodeo.com for tickets.