Thursday, April 24, 2008

Only in SCV: I Demand a PoFest

Behold! Tokens of Pofests past.

I have an inordinate number of shirts that say “Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival.” More inordinately yet, most of these have the word “Volunteer” emblazoned across the back. Not so many years ago, I wore these shirts to my favorite event in all of SantaClaritadom. Indeed, I was something of a perennial food runner/information table talker/quasi-volunteer. Sure, some of this volunteering was done for honorable reasons (i.e., to give the appearance that I was fervently devoted to serving my community on college applications), but ultimately I just wanted to hang out at PoFest[1].

When I type “Cowboy Festival[2]”—as the event is now disgracefully called—it takes a considerable amount of self-control to not stick the word “Poetry” in the middle. For most of my formative years, the celebration of cowboy art, music, culture, and poetry was always referred to as the Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival, or Cowboy PoFest. To this day, I still call it PoFest despite the fact that organizers saw fit to remove the offending “poetry” from the event’s official name. Why should we be afraid to proclaim the fact that not only does Santa Clarita have cowboys, it has ones that recite verse?

In defiance of name changes, however, the festival has remained largely unchanged through the years. Early every spring, Santa Claritans descend on Melody Ranch to soak up cowboy culture. To some, this means a weekend of grown-up dress-up: chaps are added to jeans, spurs are added to boots, and swaggers are added to steps. All cowboy clichés are adopted with giddy enthusiasm[3]. To others, the event is a chance to listen to western musicians or poets perform their work[4]. To most, though, the Cowboy Festival revolves around gustatory exploration.

None of the food offered at the event is at all unusual—with the possible exception of buffalo—but its origins are sufficiently romanticized that we eat like steers in a feedlot (I know; my bovine humor needs work). We’re not eating beef slathered in barbecue sauce, biscuits drowned in milk-and-sausage gravy or syrupy peaches nestled beneath a roof of crumbly cobbler. No, we are on a culinary journey through time to see how cowboys ate when the West was still untamed. This is how they would have grubbed off a chuck wagon, we tell ourselves, plastic spork in hand, paper napkins at the ready, and cell phone in pocket.

When Santa Claritans have had their fill of eating and passive cultural absorption, it’s a good time to wander along the dusty main street and shop or people-watch. People get caught up in the charade, often embarrassingly so. But in the world of PoFest, authentic artisans are happy to mingle with cowboy poseurs and wannabes.

Like all events embraced by Santa Claritans, we have taken elements from another culture and made them palatable to our modern tastes and sensibilities. Fittingly, this fantasy plays out in an Old West town that’s really just a convincing fantasy in itself—a movie and TV set. But let not a little artifice deter you from heading out for the festival’s 15th year; it’s as authentically Santa Claritan as anything comes. This City has rancheros in its past, the Western Walk of Stars, and a lot of cowboy sympathizers. And most Claritan of all, it's getting just a little bit worse for wear each year--more expensive, more overdone, and less like it used to be. Still, I heart it so.

[1]Full disclosure: I didn’t coin PoFest, it is a verbal masterpiece created by L.S.N.
[2]For more details, here is the
official site. [3] I will just say that one year, a prominent car salesperson was saying "howdy" in an affected tone and getting fake oh-you're-so-charming giggles from nearby Claritans; I nearly vomited. [4]Yes, there really is a market for that sort of thing. I went to a show that you had to pay for only once in all my times at PoFest, and once was enough.

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