March 15, 2005
What began 14 years ago as a film enthusiast’s dream has grown into one of the largest Western extravaganzas in the country.
The Festival of the West started with a meager attendance of about 700. Its founder and trail boss, Mary Brown, said the first event featured few celebrity guests and about eight musical performances.
Last year 60,000 spectators turned out and event officials expect this year’s attendance to reach 65,000. The event generated an economic impact of $8 million last year, according to the city.
"This is the last year the event will be held at Rawhide," Brown said. "We’re going to bust the doors down."
The four-day roundup of all things Western will be Thursday through Sunday at Rawhide Western Town and Steakhouse. In the past, it was held at WestWorld of Scottsdale.
Brown has no idea where the festival will be held after Rawhide moves to the Gila River Indian Community later this year.
She said her attention is focused on this year’s festival.
Brown said she became a fan of Western history after attending a film festival in Asheville, N.C. Upon returning to the Valley, she contacted officials at Rawhide and floated the idea of a Western event similar to a Renaissance fair.
"I just had so much fun meeting the people who remembered the old TV Westerns," Brown said. "I suddenly realized a lot more people other than myself loved this stuff."
Brown said the festival is a part of her dream to keep the Old West alive in America. She believes the cowboy is a true American icon.
"The lifestyle itself was an art form," she said. "Cooking from a chuck wagon, weaving and leather work are things you never want to see lost."
The Festival of the West will feature historic gunfight reenactments and 1800s-style mountain men. There will be chuck wagon and Dutch oven cookoffs, continuous country music, autograph sessions with stars of Western films, a Michael Martin Murphey concert and more.
Bob Charnes, 66, the cofounder of the Gunfighters of the West, said what most people know about the Old West is from TV, and that information is rarely accurate and often is exaggerated.
The group of about 50 history enthusiasts will reenact famous gunfights during the event.
"They didn’t really do fast draw in the Old West," Charnes said. "In fact, Wyatt Earp told his biographer (Stewart Lake) that the most important thing to remember in a gunfight is to ‘take your time in a hurry,’ which is probably what saved his life at the OK Corral."
The Powderhorn Clan of mountain men also will make appearances all four days. Billie Sherrill, 71, a member of the group, said period gear is a must. Journals and letters from trappers such as Kit Carson are researched to verify the authenticity of each outfit and reenactment.
"All of our gear has to be pre-1840," Sherrill said. "Our clothing is canvas, cloth or leather. Our camps are primitive as well. We use canvas, wood and iron. Tents and equipment made from aluminum, plastic and nylon are not allowed."
Brown said the most important thing to remember about the Festival of the West is that it’s a chance for those who love the Old West culture to put on their costumes and participate in recreating history.
Those who are not so entrenched can bring out the family, soak up the atmosphere and have a good time.
Festival of the West
When: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday
Where: Rawhide Western Town and Steakhouse, 23023 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Cost: $12 for adults; $11 for senior citizens; $4 for children 5 through 12; free for children younger than 5
Information: (602) 996-4387