A half-dozen communities in our area celebrated centennials this summer. With each came a smorgasbord of activities, in addition to the usual summer offerings of rodeos, fairs, weddings, milestone birthdays, and festivals. It was easy to be entertained and hard to completely unpack before heading off again. I was beginning to wonder if my English ancestors might not have had a bit of Gypsy in them.
Photographer John Hockensmith, who produces the official Kentucky Derby Winner’s Print and Winner’s Collection, spent two summers traveling with the Romani Gypsies of northland country England. His adventures are chronicled in the superb Gypsy Horses and the Travelers Way: The Road to Appleby Fair (University of Oklahoma Press, 2007, 184 pages, 235 travel images, 15 historical images, 40 artistic images, hardback, ISBN: 1599755971). Peek inside this exquisite coffee table book that is part travel log and part history lesson: http://www.finearteditions.net/book.htm.
Invited to join a prominent Gypsy family during their annual 60-mile horse-drawn pilgrimage to Appleby Fair, Hockensmith was allowed unusual access to the shielded society. Camera in hand, he traveled with the caravan of bow-topped wagons as they made their way through quaint villages, along busy and often dangerous highways, camping in lush pastures as families have for more than 300 years.
Chartered in 1685 by King James II, Appleby Fair has been conducted ever since without fail. It’s a spirited gathering where thousands of Gypsies and non-Gypsies assemble to participate in and watch the festivities. The Romani heritage is celebrated with music, food, drink, fortune telling, trading, and contests.
Gypsies prove their horsemanship and the prowess of their beloved “cobs” in a variety of events. They also sell the colorful, calm-natured horses. Essential to work and play, the Gypsy cob is thought to be a combination of Shires and Clydesdales, Dales and Fell ponies, Friesians and Galloway trotting ponies. There are no written records of bloodlines; no breed registry. Horses are sold and traded on the seller’s word. To question his word is an insult.
Gypsy Horses and the Travelers Way: The Road to Appleby Fair retails for $49.95 and is available at Amazon.com. You may also order from the author at http://www.finearteditions.net/books.htm; Hockensmith Fine Arts, 146 E. Main St., Georgetown, KY 40324; (800) 972-8385.
Montana’s horse culture – and that of the American West – was the focus of the 2009 National Folk Festival held this summer in Butte, MT. Performers and craftsmen from across America made their way to the Richest Hill on Earth to share their talents. As one of the Nation’s largest and most prestigious celebrations of the arts, there was traditional music, food, crafts, dance, culture, and plenty of family fun: http://www.nationalfolkfestival.com/2009/ We joined friends at the festival and immersed ourselves in the rich and colorful atmosphere. I encourage you to attend the 72nd National Folk Festival when it concludes its run in Butte, July 9-11, 2010. It’s an amazing gathering. Best of all, admission is free!
On our way back from Butte, we passed through Reed Point and Columbus, MT. Singer/songwriter Stephanie Davis makes her home in between on a working cattle ranch. (Find out what’s happening at her Trails End Ranch at http://www.stephaniedavis.net/ranch%20news.htm) Whether or not you’re familiar with her name, it’s likely you’re familiar with her work. Davis wrote “We Shall be Free” and “Wolves,” both recorded by Garth Brooks. Others who have cut her songs include Don Edwards, Trisha Yearwood, Maria Muldaur, Roger Whittaker, Daniel O’Donnell, and Martina McBride.
A Montana native and frequent guest on A Prairie Home Companion, Davis released two albums this year: Western Bliss and Western Bling. I knew she was working on the pair and was anxious to hear what she did with the standards she selected. You read right – standards – with a dose of Western swing. Think Bob Wills, Bobby Darin, Billie Holiday. (Davis talks about the CDs and studio musicians at http://www.stephaniedavis.net/Bliss%20and%20Bling.htm)
Davis’ rich, almost sultry voice is reminiscent of the days when couples flocked to ballrooms to enjoy an evening out with their favorite dance band. (Listen to sample tracks at http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/StephanieDavis) On Bling, I favor “Nevertheless,” “Beyond the Sea,” “The Best Things in Life Are Free,” “Goin’ Away Party.” On Bliss you’ll find “Montana Cowgirl,” “Leanin’ on the Old Top Rail,” “Navajo Trail,” “Texas Blues.” For complete track listings and liner notes: http://www.cowboypoetry.com/stephaniedavis2.htm
Western Bliss and Western Bling sell for $17 each (postpaid) from Recluse Records, 838 Countryman Creek Road; Columbus, MT 59019; (406) 326-2180; http://www.stephaniedavis.net/