Sunday, June 29, 2014

2014 Best of the West Weekend takes (two) steps in the right direction

MC Bob Westrop at 2014 Best of the West Weekend
C. Davis photos and videos
Chris Davis, Pincher Creek Voice

After 26 Cowboy Poetry Gatherings in Pincher Creek, organizers took a brave step this year and changed the format and the name to inaugurate what they hope will be an event with equally long legs.  Such a change doesn't come without its share of pain and dissent, but the Best of the West Weekend was, in final measure, successful at keeping some of the best attributes of the Gathering while adding new and younger ingredients to the mix.

Friday night's headliner, Allen Christie's trio
Longer sets by the musicians was one welcome change, allowing them to stretch out more than the previously more hectic presentation.  There were less poets, but the quality was consistently high for those that did recite, and an interesting documentary about Gathering favourite poet Doris Daley was aired on the Saturday, which seemed to be greatly appreciated by the crowd.  The whole event was staged in the Horseshoe Pavilion instead of being split between the pavilion and the community hall up the hill, as had been done in the past.  

Gathering stalwarts Bob Davis and Noel Burles
Gathering stalwarts like Camel Dave, Barry Heath, Noel Burles, Bob Davis, Dusty Litchfield, Morrie Goetjen, Matt Hicken,  and Randy and Rai Smith shared the bill with a dynamic collection of new voices, including Jane Hawley, Matt Patershuk, Bradly Tucker, Jared Klok, JohnPaul Smith, Mariel Buckley, and Tim Buckley.  Mariya Soetart returned to the Pincher Creek stage with an accomplice, the talented Whitley Macaulay. Wailback and Sid Marty were very well received.  Headliners Allen Christie and Gary Fjellgaard provided long sets of polished entertainment. 

Bob Westrop performed MC duties for much of the event, and despite facing a flood of problems elsewhere he did so with his usual panache.  CKUA's Allison Brock also put in her time behind the mic as MC, and her vision seems to have been stamped on a sizeable amount of the new and wonderful performers that entertained throughout the weekend.

Smilin' Allison Brock
Unfortunately, wet weather put the kibosh on most of the planned outdoor events.

After the dust had well settled I asked Best of the West head honcho Janet Barkwith a few questions.  I first asked her how successful the makeover was, in retrospect.  "Very well for a first attempt at a new, updated and made-over event," she replied.  "We learned lessons, as you always do when creating something new, and we can apply these lessons to the next time. The comments we have received have been very favourable and very encouraging. What was also great to see was that we had young children and their parents around. Our core audience has been with the old Gathering for a very long time, and we love 'em, but for an event to continue to flourish, it needs to continually appeal to new people. Hopefully we're beginning to build a foundation for the long term survival of a Western event in Pincher Creek."

Camel Dave Howell
"What were the numbers like?" I asked her.  "We had quite a few new people this year - a whole extended family came to celebrate two birthdays, and camped the entire weekend. It will take time for the word to get out that new and exciting things are happening in Pincher Creek in June, but I think we've made a beginning."

Ed Brown
In response to my query about the response of the audience to the revamped show.  "Reaction was mixed, as you might expect, but the overall response was very favourable. Change can be scary for many people, and too often it can be easy to dismiss the new simply because it's unfamiliar. But nothing remains the same, and we're hoping that those few who were a bit put off by the changes will open their minds to change. So many established and well-loved performers got their start in Pincher Creek all those years ago. We're hoping we can give the new generation of Western performers their own start."

Headliner Gary Fjellgaard
"What worked, what didn't work?" I asked.  "The two evening shows were terrific. The wagon rides were very popular. The pony rides and face painting for the kids went down extremely well. Our new performers were popular too, if CD and book sales are anything to go by! The new and higher stage was great in its new position, with its lovely decorations, and the Horseshoe Pavilion looked great. Supper provided by Barry Carney (Simply Catering) and Jenni Akitt (Twin Butte general Store and Waterton Opera House) and the concession provided by the ladies of the Napi Friendship Association were terrific. And I mustn't forget the craftsmen and women who displayed such gorgeous items and who really made an effort to make their booths look fabulous, which enhanced the whole event.. The weather didn't work so good, though, and a couple of our outdoor demonstrations had to be cancelled, which was a shame. We're talking about possibly having it all under cover next time, if we can."

Jared Klok
Her own personal highlights?  "When I could put my feet up at the end! It's been a long year of hard work for our committee. It was good to know that we managed to pull it off, though there's still improvements we can make."

Soundman, percussionist, all around good guy Joe Cunningham
As to whether the event will return next year, Barkwith was guardedly optimistic. "Too soon to say, though we hope very much The Best of the West Weekend will return. It's a lot of work for a few people, and it would be made a lot easier if we had more volunteers - PLEASE!! If we go again, as we really hope to, we're already talking about some more things we can do to reflect The West as it is today, as well as how it was in the past."

Mariya Soetart and Whitley Macaulay
In closing, Barkwith thanked the people who made it happen.  "The members of the committee were awesome this year," she said. "Changing things around and making something new is always much more work than running something that has been going on well-oiled wheels for some time. Everyone stepped up to the plate and worked extremely hard. My thanks go to all of them, and I'm looking forward to us all working again together next time."

Organizers Mike Barkwith and Brian Hamilton

Preaching at Cowboy Church - Bryn Thiessen
The view from here: Wailback

Dusty Dee Litchfield and Janet Barkwith
At Cowboy Church

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