Cowboy Poetry
& Music Festival

annual event in Santa Clarita, California

article and images by Carole Terwilliger Meyers

cowboy on horse with guitar at Melody Ranch in Santa Clarita, California
cowboy on horse with guitar
at Melody Ranch in Santa Clarita, California

Santa Clarita is in a valley 35 miles northeast of downtown L.A.  It is situated between I-5 and Hwy. 14.

Whether or not you were raised on cowboys like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, you’ve probably heard of them.  What you might not realize is that these rough, tough, gun-totin’ guys loved to sing in the saddle.  It’s an old cowboy tradition, as is spouting straight-shooting, and sometimes downright silly, poetry.

Santa Clarita celebrates these art forms annually at the historic Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio.  And every year since 1994, usually in April, Melody Ranch has opened up its gates and invited the public in to celebrate the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival.

Opened in 1915, Melody Ranch looks just as dusty, windy, and parched in person as it did in the background of westerns that include movies like High Noon and My Little Chickadee and TV shows like The Gene Autry Show and Gunsmoke.  More than 1,950 films have been shot here since the studio opened.

Elvis was here for a photo shoot in 1962 when a devastating fire broke out, and though he jumped in to help extinguish it, the studio’s historic Main Street burned to the ground.  Though the studio remained closed for a while, it was rebuilt and is once again helping Hollywood churn out entertainment.

For the festival, vendors set up shop inside the various facades and buildings used as sets.  Everything from gaudy Western ware to vintage books of Western fiction is for sale.  The saloon becomes a venue for live piano music, and a gigantic 7000-square-foot sound stage becomes an auditorium for performances.  There is no better place to see the Old West come to life.

people walking down Main Street at Melody Ranch in Santa Clarita, California
people walking down
Main Street at Melody Ranch
in Santa Clarita, California

As visitors walk down Main Street, they encounter cowboys on horseback strumming a guitar and singing a haunting melody like Do not forsake me oh my darlin’, or plunking out another atmospheric tune like The Streets of Laredo.  Near where the chuck-wagons are dispensing chow, more cowboys are busy demonstrating lasso twirling and telling tall tales.

Situated inside the studio prop house, the Melody Ranch Museum is open for viewing the Purple Pimp Car used in Dirty Harry, a car that went over a cliff in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and a jeep used in M*A*S*H.

People-watching is primo, and this is a great chance to don your dancing boots and tinkling spurs.  Many visitors dress in Western style, and some people appear in get-ups that are too beyond the pale to imagine.  Many professional extras show up wearing authentic gear, adding immensely to the flavor.  Part of the fun is just sitting for a spell and surveying the scene.

Shows are scheduled in large and small venues and included in admission.  You’ll want to see several.  Some of the best cowboy entertainers come to town for this,   T including cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell and classic cowboy balladeer Dave Stamey.  Related events held in other venues have in the past included a dinner ride on the Fillmore & Western Railway, a performance in the living room of the nearby William S. Hart Mansion, and a trail ride and camp out.

So guys, break out your bandannas, fringed suede jackets, and cowboy hats, and gals, your bustles and fancy hats, and kids, your ratty Davy Crockett fur hats, and y’all high-tail it on out to Melody Ranch.

more things to do in Santa Clarita

Agua Dulce Vineyard  This is the only winery in L.A. County.  Just before you get here, you’ll see a turn-off to the 745-acre Vasquez Rocks Natural Park Area—where “The Flintstones” was filmed.

Six Flags Magic Mountain/Hurricane Harbor  At Magic Mountain Parkway exit, in Valencia.  Featuring 16 world-class roller coasters and more than 100 rides, games, and attractions for the entire family, this theme park is bursting at the seams with a whole lineup of excitement and fun for everyone.  Here you’ll see your favorite Looney Tunes and Justice League characters, so keep your camera and autograph books handy because these characters love to play with park guests.

roller coaster at Magic Mountain in Valencia, California
roller coaster at Magic Mountain in Valencia, California

William S. Hart Museum  A legendary silent film star, Hart was the first cowboy movie star.  His Spanish-Colonial estate holds the largest display of Western art in the state.

(; copyright Carole Terwilliger Meyers)