The 19th annual Cowboy Festival, staged by the city of Santa Clarita, hosted by world-famous Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studios in Newhall and sponsored by Lockheed Federal Credit Union, is a wrap. The final pieces of vendors’ displays and staging, sound and lighting are off the Melody Ranch lot, and the studio is back in production mode for films, TV shows and commercials.
Saturday’s 100-degree heat didn’t keep the crowds away from the 22-acre ranch, tucked in the western end of Placerita Canyon and dotted with huge old-growth shady oaks. Several thousand people showed up for the full-sensory flashback to the wild, wild west, enjoying lots of cowboy music and Western-style food (especially Texas BBQ and the peach “Cowboy Cobbler” ), plus cowboy fashion, books, posters, memorabilia, arts and crafts, equestrian gear and accessories and more on display and sale.
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Most spectators dressed for comfort, but at least a few dozen men and women were decked out in traditional Western garb, some of which looked better suited for winter than the summer-like blast the Santa Clarita Valley experienced Saturday.
After the headlining set on the main Melody Ranch stage by The Quebe Sisters Band — featuring three champion fiddle players and singers from Texas — earned a standing ovation about 6 p.m., the festival’s opening day faded into the sunset. The fun picked up late Sunday morning, as temperatures eased about 10 degrees and a light breeze kept another several thousand spectators a bit cooler while they enjoyed the immersion in all things Western.
Kids especially had fun both days with hands-on activities including leather tooling and bolo tie-making. The blacksmith shop was busy cranking out personalized horseshoes for youngsters. The New Buffalo Soldiers showed all how black Americans played roles in the history of the west.
Pop Haydn wowed kids with his old-fashioned magic tricks, master gun-spinner Joey Dillon showed off some flashy moves flipping a pair of .45s. And a trio of trick ropers — Dave Thornbury, John Hustead and Jim Townsley — rounded up more than a few young-uns moseying up and down historic Main Street.
The Quebe Sisters Band — Hulda Quebe, Drew Phelps, Sofia and Grace Quebe, and Joey McKenzie.
Along with the Western-swinging Quebes (rhymes with “maybe”), favorite festival performers returning to the main Melody Ranch stage this year included emcee Joe Herrington, Grammy -nominated Western troubadour Don Edwards, cowboy entertainer Dave Stamey, cowboy swing group Cow Bop, songwriter Brenn Hill, Jon Chandler & The Wichitones, Western Music Association Hall of Famer R.W. Hampton, and the Band of the California Battalion, re-creating the look and sounds of a Civil War-era Union brass ensemble. Among the first-time headliners were songwriter Adrian — Buckaroogirl and Carin Mari & The Pony Express.
On the spoken-word side, master cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell, cowgirl poet Doris Daley, and teller of tall tales Gary Robertson also turned in well-received sets on the Melody Ranch stage.
Three other stages scattered around the ranch featured saloon piano pounder Dave Bourne, old-time banjo player John Reynolds, fiddler Dave Rainwater, and The Messick Family of Santa Clarita, among a dozen or so others.
There were also demonstrations of North American Indian dance by the Wild Horse Dancers, and solo performances by flute player Carlos Reynosa and singer Tracy Lee Nelson.
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 soundstages for interior shots and non-Western productions. The Veluzat family has hosted the Cowboy Festival at Melody Ranch since 1994.
Cowboy Festival-goers also get free admission to the Melody Ranch Museum, packed with cars, props, artifacts and photos from past productions — Westerns, war movies, action films, sci-fi epics, gangster flicks and more. The museum is open the rest of the year by appointment only.
The Veluzats add artifacts each year. Among the items in the mass of memorabilia new for 2012 was a huge skull-and-crossbones wall display from “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and large framed displays of photos autographed by actors and stuntmen and stuntwomen who’ve filmed at the ranch, including Martin Kove, Loren Janes and Nikki Pelley, donated by local Western movie aficionado Tom White.
On a walk through the museum, Renaud Veluzat said business has been good at the studio the last year, with films, music videos and TV commercials. “We shot all those Dodge RAM truck commercials — about 21 of them,” he said.
When carts collide: Andre, Paul and Renaud Veluzat.
There’s a major feature film that just wrapped several months of production on the lot. “That’s all I can tell you about that one,” Veluzat said, grinning. “And there’s good stuff coming up. We got a few commercials and a couple Westerns, and the Westerns seem like they’re really coming back, so that’s great for everybody and the kids. Kids like this (museum memorabilia) stuff, and they like to see the things behind the scenes. That’s what we like to show them here.”
Before we know it, we’ll be saddling up for the 20th annual Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival. “It rolls around quick,” Veluzat said. “It’s a great event.”
Photos: Stephen K. Peeples. Click here for more photos by Gabby Cardenas.