Easy Week

by Carley Dryden
Published January 22, 2009

Ron Christopher taps his silver-tipped snakeskin boot to the beat of his guitar strums as he croons a ditty about a Reno musician, a cowboy and a broken heart. The ballad’s melody reverberates through the Empty Saddle Club where dozens of Southern California cowboys bob their legs, adjust their Stetsons and shiny belt buckles and throw back beers while enjoying the Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival, held last Saturday night.
Started by Palos Verdes Horsemens Association member Pam Turner 12 years ago to showcase local talent, the event grew from a handful of poets gathering on a Thursday night to nearly 20 musicians, some professional, packing in 150 spectators. Country western recording artist Boomer McClennan headlines the festival often before jetting off to his next big show. And one longtime festival goer has even had some of her poems published.
But the event remains pretty darn casual.
“They’re pretty good for a bunch of amateurs,” jokes association president Dale Allen.
When Turner called Christopher’s name to come up and perform, he stumbled over from the bar and searched for his guitar.
“You want a coffee, Ron? Maybe a sobriety test?” Turner asked.
During his set, as he fiddled with his tuners, a Native American dream catcher hanging from one of them, he paused for a moment and glanced at his band mates.
“I don’t know why I don’t remember the words… I wrote it,” he said.
At the Rolling Hills Estates saddle club, horse-loving cowboys and cowgirls of L.A. find refuge on the dusty acreage of land and grass, corrals and manure. The festival is a night of chunky chili and stick-to-your-ribs cornbread followed by the sounds and words of local horse, mule, even rooster owners. When acts cancel, Turner calls up eager audience members who recite their aunt’s beloved poem about mystical horses or tales of a brute of a pony.
“I like to hear people who have written their own poems,” Allen says. “They’re pretty catchy and cute. Once in a while, there’s a bad one. But for the most part, they’re well thought out.”
Turner’s father, 85-year-old Paul Pitti, who was born into a cowboy stunt and variety show family, sings ballads dripping with Old West nostalgia. He, Turner and her husband, Randy, make up “The New Westernaires.” For years they have brought the sounds of the Wild West as well as comedy versions of old time radio shows to listeners. On Saturday night, after finishing his first song, once a poem written in 1918, Pitti lets his guitar fall to his side and addresses the crowd.
“Let’s get up to times,” he says. “How ‘bout 1945?”
After their set, Turner throws her guitar aside and picks up a microphone to begin her evening as the M.C.
“My favorite part is introducing the acts and watching them do their thing, seeing how much the audience enjoys them,” she says.
Horseman Jim Moore and his music partner Rob Hess rehearsed twice before they performed on Saturday, Moore says. “We just got back from New Zealand,” Moore tells the audience. “The kiwis really like us.”
Later, Turner introduces Mulevis – a man with a striking resemblance to Moore, squeezed into a crème-colored leather pantsuit speckled with red, white and blue gemstones. He proceeds to shake his pelvis as he belts out Elvis tunes.
“Just don’t ask him to bend over,” someone advises before Moore waddles off stage.
Mulevis’ second-skin suit gave the California Cowboys and their Wranglers a run for their money.
Band member Craig Ruppert grabs the microphone when he and his band mates step on stage.
“We’re the California Cowboys and we don’t wear bras. But I think all three of us showered. Together,” he says.
While Ruppert and Mel Harker boogey down on their guitars, Steve Deming punctuates their riffs with airy blasts of his harmonica. Then there’s some yodeling.
Turner says she likes seeing people who wouldn’t normally have a venue to perform in, being able to read their poems or sing their own songs in front of a pretty good sized audience.
“It encourages people to do something that’s a passion for them,” she says. “It allows them to share their art with other people. Some of them are friends and some of them become new friends.” ER