‘Wall to Wall People and Cowboys’ Crowd Famous Movie Ranch on Closing Day
Around 5,000 cowboy and Western music and culture fans wandered the historic streets of Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studios under partly cloudy skies and warm temperatures Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the closing day of the 2014 Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival.
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“Wall-to-wall people and cowboys,” said Renaud Veluzat, Melody Ranch co-owner (with his brother Andre), late Sunday afternoon, with just a couple of hours to go before the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival wrapped until spring 2015.
By his and all other accounts, the 21st annual festival was one of the best, if not the best, staged at the 22-acre movie ranch, tucked in the western end of Newhall’s Placerita Canyon and dotted with huge old-growth shady oaks.
“I think we’re probably had as many [people] as last year or better because of the weather,” he said. ”It’s been perfect. No wind, no rain. Everybody’s having a great time, great food, good music. You can hear it in the background. Everything’s been working great.”
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An estimated 10,000 fans enjoyed the time-warp back to the wild, wild West over the weekend. They enjoyed lots of cowboy music and Western-style victuals (especially Texas BBQ and Louisiana hotlinks) and taste treats like the peach “Cowboy Cobbler” baked in Dutch ovens by the Cowboy Cultural Committee of Visalia.
The City of Santa Clarita presents the festival, the world-famous Melody Ranch hosts the event, and Logix banking returned this year as title sponsor.
“It’s been a really great festival,” said Phil Lantis, the city’s head of Arts & Events, taking a breather for a moment. ”As many who attended are aware, we had a bit of a layout change, but it really worked out well.
“The festival brings so many wonderful people together,” Lantis said. “The performers, patrons and vendors are all so nice. It really is a celebration of an old-world approach to life, where people are walking a little slower and hopefully taking it a little easy and getting along with each other really well.”
Andre and Renaud Veluzat own Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studios, also home of the annual Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival.
The layout change Lantis mentioned was to accommodate a major production now in progress, but the filmmakers graciously stepped aside for a week or so to allow the annual Cowboy Festival to happen as usual. The production is using an area on the western side of the lot where the Melody Ranch Main Stage tent had been set up in past years, including the western end of Main Street, which was blocked off to the public by a huge white tarp. So for Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival 2014, the main stage and food court were relocated a bit east, adjacent to the studio’s two huge soundstages and the likewise relocated food court.
“We really thank the Veluzat family and Melody Ranch for making it work with the production,” Lantis said. “And thanks to the production, of course, that was willing to let us continue to be here. We’re really proud to be able to celebrate our Western heritage out here at Melody Ranch, and it’s been a great year.”
Lantis, who said he’s been watching his weight, admitted he’d had at least one bowl of Cowboy Cobbler. “Always a hit,” he said. “I cut myself back a little bit, needed to take it a little easy. The Cowboy Cultural Committee does that. They’re just a huge hit. We put them in the center point of what we call the Trading Post and it seemed to work out really well for them.
“[We] definitely had all the different stages and stuff we always had, but in a new layout. Hopefully people enjoyed it,” Lantis said. “We’ll see what happens next year.”
“This year everything was perfect, great,” said Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste as the sun began to move lower in the late afternoon sky, and visitors started headin’ up and movin’ out.
“The food has been fabulous – I got into the cobbler, and all the other good things. The families have been out here with the kids. We’ve got a lot of kids now, and they’re having fun with it. People are just so overjoyed and friendly. It was just a perfect, perfect weekend, and I think it’s the best festival we’ve ever had.”
Main Street Scene at Melody Ranch
In various storefronts up and down Main Street and in tents up and down side roads, visitors encountered a mother lode of cowboy accouterments, including Western fashion, books, posters, CDs, memorabilia, arts and crafts, rugs, quilts, jewelry, equestrian accessories and much more.
In one store, sculptor Greg Polutanovich from Saugus had several of his works on display, including busts of John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and Clint Walker, among others. He’s also a frequent Cowboy Festival vendor.
Medicine Man Pop Haydn wowed kids small and big with his old-fashioned magic tricks and hawked his rock candy “elixir.”
The Melody Ranch blacksmith shop on the east end of Main Street was busy as the smithies pounded out personalized horseshoes for human tenderfeet of all ages. The smithies went through a big tubful of horseshoes Saturday and Sunday, and by that measure, it was a busy festival.
In a barn and stable nearby, members of the New Buffalo Soldiers contingent showed visitors some of the many ways African-Americans contributed to Western culture in the latter 1800s.
The fastest gun in the West, Joey Dillon, flipped his pair of 45s in a series of flashy moves behind his back, over his head, and between his legs, his third and last show of the day starting at 4:15.
Kids especially had fun both days with hands-on activities in a special Kids Corner, including leather tooling, panning for gold, and dogie-roping.
And master trick roper Dave Thornbury (pictured) walked up and down Main Street, roping just about anyone who moseyed into range.
Thornbury’s been a festival favorite for more years than anyone can count, including him. He says does it because he loves it.
“When I’m out here [on Main Street], I’m not working. It’s fun,” he said. “There could be no better place for this [festival].”
2014 Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival Music and Poetry Performers
Performances on the main Melody Ranch stage kicked off Sunday at 10:30 a.m. with the Tom Corbett Band, followed as the day progressed by the Lucky Stars; Mary Kaye; and Jon Chandler. Festival veteran Dave Bourne played saloon piano tunes between sets, when he was so inclined.
Sunday afternoon’s big stage headliners were Waddie Mitchell (pictured below right) and his real-deal cowboy poetry; California cowboy music family band Sons of the San Joachin; cowboy swing favorites Cow Bop (pictured below left); and Grammy-nominated solo acoustic guitarist Don Edwards, whose original and authentic cowboy classics wrapped up the day just before 6 p.m.
Mitchell, the Sons and Edwards co-headlined the very first Santa Clarita Cowboy Poetry & Music Festival in 1994, and have appeared nearly every year since.
Meanwhile, more Western music played out on three other side stages – the California Music, Heritage and Cowboy Corner stages, which presented a passel of artists and performers representing a variety of Western genres and subcultures, as well as Native Americans.
Musical highlights included the Santa Clarita Valley’s own multi-generation Western sextet The Messick Family; singing cowgirl Belinda Gail; musicians-singers Dave Stamey and Jon Chandler; and the Band of the California Battalion, re-creating a Civil War-era Union brass band.
There were also demonstrations of North American Indian dance on the Cowboy Corner stage by the WildHorse Singers & Dancers, including the “Fancy Dance” by a young female dancer. Elsewhere, flute player Carlos Reynosa and singer Tracy Lee Nelson played and sang Native American music. All have been frequent and popular performers at past Santa Clarita Cowboy Festivals.
Melody Ranch Celebrates 100th Year in 2015
The location for literally thousands of movies, TV series and commercials over the past 99 years opened as the Placerito Ranch in 1915. William S. Hart, Gary Cooper, Tom Mix, Roy Rogers, Bill Boyd and John Wayne all filmed pictures there in the early days, as silents were replaced by talkies.
Singing cowboy superstar Gene Autry bought the ranch from B-movie studio Monogram Pictures in 1952, renamed it Melody Ranch, and kept it open for production. Then a 1962 brushfire wiped out many of Main Street’s iconic facades. After that, Autry let the ranch go, except as a home for his horse Champion (the last of three so named).
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In 1990, after Champion died and was buried next to the barn in which he lived out his final years, Autry sold Melody Ranch to brothers Renaud and Andre Veluzat. Since then, they have 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. Festival-goers also get into the Melody Ranch Museum free of charge. Open by appointment only the rest of the year, the museum is packed with cars, tanks, motorcycles, set pieces and other props, artifacts and photographs from productions filmed at Melody Ranch over the years – Westerns, war movies, action films, sci-fi epics, gangster flicks, commercials, music videos and more.
“The museum’s been packed; everybody enjoys the museum, all the cars and all the memorabilia from all the shows,” Renaud Veluzat said.
Melody Ranch as a whole could be considered a living, working museum.
“We’re coming up on the 100th anniversary of the Placerito Ranch, which is [now] Melody Ranch,” Veluzat said. “Hopefully, we can carry it on for another 100 years.”
All photos by Stephen K. Peeples. Special thanks to Paige Hagen.
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Source: Santa Clarita News