Welcome back. In between Dallas and Oklahoma City there’s a lonely exit called “40 to Springer- Gene Autry.” You go about 5 miles to Happy Trails road and then another mile or so to Tumbleweed road and then another mile or so and then friends you have arrived in the town of Gene Autry, Oklahoma population “a few”. There’s no main street, never was, just a handful of houses and a nicely remodeled auditorium with a gymnasium next door that is also very well kept up. My travels this past weekend took me to this place because it was recommended to me by Oklahoma singer and songwriter Les Gilliam. He told me about an event they were holding there which was advertised as the first Cowboy Way Fest. Three days of basically non-stop western music with a very impressive lineup. Sons of the Pioneers, Rex Allen, Jr. and Kristy Harris were just a few of the featured performers and Kristy had just won a Wrangler Award which is the equivalent of an Oscar in the western world. It was a no brainer for me, I had to go.
When I arrived on Friday night I found dozens of musicians playing everywhere from underneath shade trees to in the gymnasium when they weren’t playing on stage in the auditorium with their regular bands and they did this all weekend. The gym was also where the vendors set up, selling everything western of course. Another big draw in the gym was the appearance of a half dozen cowboy film stars. For you folks old enough to remember the T.V. show The Virginian, one of them was James Drury who played the Virginian. A big star in the sixties, it looked like he’s just about as popular now. Members of his fan club showed up in droves and after visiting with him I can see why. Nice guy!
Roberta Shore was there too. A star of the big screen and T.V., she got one of her early breaks in T.V.’s The Shaggy Dog in 1959 and many roles followed. Emmy Award winner Gary Clarke, another big cowboy star from the sixties, Alex Cord who had a leading role in the hit T.V. show Laramie, Ken Farmer another T.V. actor who has also done over 260 commercials and even the original Marlboro Man Ben Bates, they were all there.
Les Gilliam, a man who grew up knowing Gene Autry was also there playing every day to a full house. Les is a big time headliner who I mentioned last week will be playing this Saturday night at The Good, The Bad and The Barbeque out at the Mullendore Cross Bell Ranch.
The whole Cowboy Way Fest was put on by the Gene Autry Oklahoma Museum which is open to the public Thursday-Saturday 10-5 and Sunday 12-5. I must tell you it’s a must see place for fans of the old west. Call Leslie Fisher who manages the museum for more info at 580-294-3335.
Cowboys, western music, museums dedicated to a way of life that’s all but forgotten. That’s what these cowboy festivals are all about, trying to preserve the music and traditions that are part of history now. Being a big cattle producing area we have that history right here in the northeast corner of Oklahoma and the last of one of the big ranches is the Cross Bell. For those of you who haven’t heard yet the ranch is hosting a big party benefiting Elder Care. It’s a chance to see where it all got started along with really good music, auctions like none I’ve seen before, and great food. With the weather looking good call Elder Care at (918) 335-8500 for tickets. For those of you who are not sure, tickets can be purchased at the ranch the night of the event.
Till next time I’ll see ya down the road…..