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Santa Clarita Planning Cowboy Poetry Festival : Heritage: Officials hope the March event will sharpen the city's image and give people a sense of their roots.

August 16, 1993|JONATHAN GAW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In search of its roots and an identity, Santa Clarita has turned to cowboy poetry.

The five-year-old city, best known for housing developments and a neighboring theme park, announced that it will hold a three-day festival in March celebrating the poetry and music of the cowboys and vaqueros.

"There is some real history in this soil; it's not just new developments," said Cecilia Burda, who is coordinating the Cowboy Poetry, Music and Film Festival. "This was once big ranching country."

In creating the festival, city officials hope to sharpen Santa Clarita's image, Burda said, as something more distinctive than the home of the Magic Mountain turnoff.

"People are real hungry for history," Burda said. "They are hungry for roots and to belong to something."

Cowboys and their poems have, indeed, been part of Santa Clarita, and remain so. Cowboy silent films' star William S. Hart settled down in Newhall and the Newhall Land and Farming Co. still grazes cattle on parts of Valencia that have yet to be developed.

Les Buffham, a local lyricist, recently wrote a 57-stanza tribute to Hart, the namesake of the local high school district.

" He got into many a fierce jangle,

And he stepped on quite a few toes

To uphold all true representation

Of those silent western heroes. "

The Santa Clarita festival would become one of only a handful of large venues for cowboy poetry in Southern California, said Meg Glaser, program director of the Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nev. The Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in Griffith Park is another.

More than 150 cowboy poetry events are held annually across the country, tapping into the yearning to get in touch with the nation's heritage, said Glaser, whose center each year organizes one of the nation's largest showcases for the art.

"It's really an amazing and powerful medium for people to express their love of the land, nature and animals and their community and family," Glaser said. "Like other traditional art forms, it's a way of reinforcing values that are shared and understood by a certain community."

City folk flock to the festivals to relive a way of life long gone, Glaser said. "A lot of the people in the city are displaced rural people in their personal family heritage," Glaser said.

Like other poems, cowboy verse often tells a story, with themes such as favorite horses and good riding partners. Others, like those of legendary cowboy poet Wallace McRae, deal with more contemporary topics such as being driven off the land by rampant development, losing ranches and a way of life.

"Great God, how we're doin'! We're rollin' in dough,

As they tear and they ravage The Earth.

And nobody knows ... or nobody cares ...

About things of intrinsic worth. "

The Santa Clarita festival, to be held March 25-27, also will feature cowboy music and films. The co-sponsor of the event is Warner Western, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Corp.

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