Some performers at the Princeton Traditional Music Festival appeal to audiences because of their beautiful voices or fine musicianship. Others are attractive because they have interesting stories to tell in their music. John Kidder belongs in this category. Princetonites may remember John Kidder from his participation in an all-candidates meeting during last year’s provincial election, when he ran for the Green Party. This year he will be singing at the Festival.
John is from Ashcroft and tells stories and sings songs about working cowboys. He is highly qualified to do so because he himself has worked as a cowboy. He sings a line of songs from the trail herd days of the 19th century and about cowboying in hard country after the open ranges were closed. He brings in a song or two from the Tin Pan Alley era of Gene Autrey and Roy Rogers and a few from current cowboy writers. He connects the songs and stories about his path from a complete greenhorn to a useful hard. He explains some of the jargon and shows people how to throw the houlihan. He has fun.
The word “houlihan” refers to a type of loop used in roping, often for catching horses and a greenhorn, of course, is someone inexperienced. Cowboy songs are full of this kind of vocabulary so when you hear John Kidder sing you will not only get a vocabulary lesson, but you will also learn about cowboy history.
The first cowboys in North America were the Spanish vaquero, a Spanish word for an individual who managed cattle while mounted on horseback. When the first English-speaking settlers began arriving in the American southwest they encountered countless droves of mustangs and wild cattle abandoned by Mexicans. With population growth on the east coast there was an increased demand for beef. The arrival of railways marked the beginning of the huge cattle drives. Cowboys drove the cattle herds from the southwest to the nearest railheads farther north, often hundreds of miles away. The Chisholm Trail and the Goodnight-Loving Trail were two of the routes they used.
Traditional cowboy songs emerged out of these groups of cowboys working together. The cowboys and the herds traveled by day and cowboys camped at night. Songs and stories were shared around the campfire. During the night cowboys would take turns guarding the herd to protect it from predators and to keep it from getting spooked and stampeding. Often they played harmonica or sang songs to soothe the cattle. With the massive settlement of the western US and the coming of fences and more railroads, this way of life disappeared. Some of the old cowboys got jobs in Hollywood acting in westerns.
The reason that traditional cowboy songs such as “I Ride an Old Paint”, “When the Work’s All Done This Fall” and “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie” are known today is because folk song collectors recorded them from the old cowboys. Thanks to them we have the pleasure of hearing John Kidder sing some of these songs at the Music Festival.
John Kidder is just one of the new performers who will be participating in this year’s Traditional Music Festival, which begins on the town square on Friday 15 August at 6:15 pm. Then there is music from 10 am until 6 pm on Saturday and Sunday right in downtown Princeton. The best thing about it is that it’s free – no admission is charged. It is run entirely by volunteers including the musicians.
If you would like to find out more, visit the festival’s website at www.princetontraditional.org. If you’d like to help out at the Festival the committee would love to hear from you. You can email email@example.com or phone 250-295-6010.