If you're wondering where country, alt-country and faux-country artists--Madonna con cowboy hat, anyone?--got their attitudes and imagery (the ties, the boots, the rugged individualism), you can to a large extent thank Hollywood. After all, it was Western movies and serials that introduced much of America to the romantic notion of riding the range, camping out under the stars, and telling them doggies to get along. The singing cowboys of the 1940s and beyond played a significant role in popularizing the guitar and guitar music played by average Joes and collected and published by music scholars like John Lomax. Depending on your age and where you grew up, you might remember seeing Gene Autry, Roy Rogers or Tom Mix in theaters as well as in reruns on Saturday morning television. But while it's not as easy to find them today, the films are part of a cowboy subculture that continues to thrive in areas of North Carolina like Asheville, Charlotte and Siler City.
Milo Holt's Old Time Western Film Club, now in its 31st year, continues its tradition of presenting daylong festivals that feature everything from 16mm cowboy movies and Western music to staged "gunfights" for the kids. There's also Western memorabilia for sale including cowboy books, videotapes, pictures and posters. And if you're lucky, the good ladies from Piney Grove Methodist Church will provide food again.
Filmwise, you might witness the likes of Rocky Lane in Renegades of Sonora, or Charles Starrett and Russell Hayden in West of Tombstone, along with a Foghorn-Leghorn cartoon. And there are prizes--which, as any cowboy knows, can make you sit a little taller in the saddle. Holt, a joke-cracking and harmonica-playing regular in the house band at Charlie's Barn in Pittsboro, is now in his 80s. "Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be," he says. And he promises to keep his Old Time Western Film Club going as long as the Lord allows. Catch the latest festival Oct. 27, starting at 10 a.m. at Charlie's Barn, Route 64, six miles west of Pittsboro (turn right on Buckner Clark Road, left on Hillside Music Road).