There are few things in the world like Santa Clarita’s annual Cowboy Festival.
Over the past 26 years, the event has grown into a weekend-long event organized by close to 100 members of city staff, featuring 25 musical acts and welcoming approximately 10,000 festival attendees each year.
On April 13-14, the Cowboy Festival offers five different festival stages, a wealth of history about Hart Park and a variety of food and drinks that would make a gourmand jump for joy.
“It’s been a trial-and-error thing over the years, and it’s not that we have one year of history,” said Phil Lantis, the arts and events manager for the city. “We have 26 years of doing this. It’s about making the best event possible for the attendees and constantly improving year after year.”
Lantis is one of those few who can lay claim to being involved in all 26 years for the Cowboy Festival.
“I started working for the city the year before the first festival,” said Lantis. “And I’ve worked in every capacity in some way to help organize this festival.”
When the festival launched in 1994, it was held at Melody Ranch in Newhall and went by a different name.
“It used to be called the Santa Clarita Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival — we used to be just traditional cowboy music and poetry,” said Lantis. “But now we’ve added more modern country, bluegrass, folk and Americana music.”
The festival also shifted over to being housed at William S. Hart Park as opposed to Melody Ranch, giving the festival organizers more room to add stages, transportation and number of performers. However, despite festival planners always trying to introduce new features and improve upon old ones, one thing has always stayed the same.
“There has always been three types of people (who attend the festival),” Lantis said. “There’s the people who love it and have all the gear. They’re kind of like the Renaissance Faire people, with their own hat, spurs, boots. Then there’s the more casual ‘weekend cowboys,’ who wear a hat or Wranglers or like a western shirt. And then there’s the people who just come in regular clothes.”
Entertainment and attractions
Dave Knutson has been organizing the Cowboy Festival alongside Lantis for 15 years now, and he says this year’s festival is once again bringing back the successful attractions and performers of years past, but also plans to introduce Santa Clarita to new features, as well.
The county staffers who oversee Hart Park, and work with city staff to put on the festival, are very supportive, Knutson said. “They don’t laugh at us when we come up with new crazy ideas.
“People can’t go in the barnyard (because the animals are under quarantine), which has always been a big attraction, so let’s do stuff at the duck pond,” Knutson said, giving an example of the occasional improvisation. “We’re also working with Bridge to Home this year to introduce a chili cook-off competition on Sunday.”
Event staff say this year’s 25-artist lineup adds more modern country music than there’s been in previous years, and each of the five stages on the festival grounds are broken up by genre.
“Some of the past and the music that brought us to where we are now, but some new bands you might have not heard of before,” Knutson said. “Main stage is more mainstream music with hour-long sets, while the other stages have” more niche genres.
A mechanical bull, family activities and roaming rope trick artists and a fiddler will also be available during both days. Those interested in doing a little shopping can peruse the Western-themed wares, clothing and books provided by the festival’s various vendors.
“We’re a free festival now, (meaning) no tickets are needed to get in,” said Knutson. “So, come check out all the activities, (purchase) some barbecue, meet and greet with authors, or try our delicious peach cobbler,” Knutson said.
The festival provides free bus rides for attendees through a shuttle service from a nearby field at the corner of 13th Street and Railroad Avenue. Five buses then run throughout the day, transferring a few thousand attendees each day for free.
“It’s only about a half-mile route from the parking area,” said Lantis. “The buses pull up and park — usually, there’s no waiting — and people can just get right on and be taken to the festival.”
The main festival is being held at the William S. Hart Park Event Area from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, April 13 and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, April 14. For more information about the Cowboy Festival, visit the event website at https://cowboyfestival.org.