Real cowboys live by their own rules: Don’t squat with your spurs on. Never ask a barber if you need a haircut. Never slap a man who’s chewing tobacco. The horse always eats first. And most importantly, don’t go where the path may lead, go where there is no path and make a trail.
The performers at this weekend’s Cowboy Poetry & Music Festival at the Monterey Conference Center make their own trails with prose and instrumentation, painting dusty landscapes of a bygone era as they do.
Juni Fisher (7pm Friday; 10:30am Saturday; 9am Sunday) is the real deal: Before launching a career in music, which has garnered a herd of awards including the 2011 Western Music Association Performer of the Year and True West Magazine’s 2011 and 2012 Best Solo Western Musician, she spent her teens and 20s making a living training horses and living on a ranch. The work was strenuous – and injury or bad weather meant no paycheck – but Fisher reflects on the lifestyle with adoration.
“The lone man/woman out on their own, against all odds, tilting at windmills like a western Don Quixote,” she says.
Fisher’s reverence for the cowboy routine was the inspiration behind her stellar debut Tumbleweed Letters.
“[My songs] are all tales about real people and their triumphs, failures, bravery and fears,” she says.
“Chinaman Jack” tells the story of an Asian opium dealer living in a small western town during the turn of the century and a murder wrongfully pinned on him that leads to his execution. An airy pan flute-led melody eerily sashays throughout the tune, like an ethereal spirit trying to find its home in a cemetery of unmarked graves. Fisher’s delivery is sweet but detached as if she’s nothing more than a third-person messenger relaying the news of the day.
At nearly half Fisher’s age, Adrian (9am and 7pm Saturday; 9am Sunday) has the kind of singing voice – a blend of Aimee Mann and LeAnn Rimes – that sounds great even if she tries to sing off-key. The 20-year-old singer-songwriter’s undeniable talent has even won over one of the godfathers of cowboy music, Tom Russell, who produced Adrian’s sophomore album, Boots and Pearls.
“I was impressed that [Adrian] has such a great voice and was so at ease on stage,” Russell told The Cowboy Way. “She’s the breath of strong fresh air that the cowboy music scene needs.”
On her new release Buckaroogirl, the cowboy motif continues to run heavy throughout all 12 country-western pop tracks. On “Red Lipped Bronc Stomper,” Adrian belts out, “City girls ain’t got nothing on me.” The lyrics arrive behind a fireball of rocking electric guitars, themselves hot enough to, say, blaze a trail of their own.
MONTEREY COWBOY POETRY & MUSIC FESTIVAL happens 4:30-10:30pm Friday, Nov. 30; 9am-10pm Saturday, Dec. 1; 9am-4:30pm Sunday, Dec. 2, at the Monterey Conference Center, 2 Portola Plaza, Monterey. $225 all events; $20-$35 single day events. 659-1041, www.montereycowboy.org