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 Texas Swing
Western Swing Festivals at Snyder and Wichita Falls

by Graham Lees


Legends Of Western swing

June this year saw me making a trip to Texas for two of the foremost western swing festivals that take place at Snyder and Wichita Falls. My trip actually started at Oklahoma City where the American Indian Red Earth festival kicked off on Friday 1st June with a parade through downtown Oklahoma City. The annual event brings together members of the many Indian tribes for three days of traditional Indian dance competitions that includes the men’s, End Of The Trail Sculpturewomen’s and children’s section at the city’s Cox Centre. Taking a little time out from the dance completions, several hours can be spent browsing around the many art and craft stalls selling fine Indian made artefacts and jewellery. Taking an afternoon out from the Red Earth event I drove over to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and spent some time looking through the many wonderful exhibits. The museum covers all aspects of cowboy culture involving both the working cowboy and the silver-screen cowboys and includes cloths, tools, guns as well as famed paintings and sculptures with James Earle Fraser’s 1894 End Of The Trail sculpture dominating the main entrance hall.

Heading south my next port of call was the township of Gene Autry (named after the famous movie star and cowboy singer) and can be found a short drive from Interstate 35. A small museum here is dedicated to Gene and run by a dedicated group of volunteers who keep the memory of the actor/singer alive today. A whole range of memorabilia has been donated by various sources including Gene Autry himself and also cover many other silver-screen cowboy actors.

The main purpose of my trip was to attend the western swing festivals that take place each year at Snyder and Wichita Falls. Snyder is found in the county of Scurry west of Dallas and Southwest of Lubbock. Its beginnings go back to 1878 when buffalo hunter and trader William Henry (Pete) Snyder built a trading post on the banks of Deep statue of the White BuffaloCreek. J. Wright Mooar was another buffalo hunter who on 7th October 1876 shot arare albino buffalo near to Deep Creek which was a sourse of water for the roaming buffalo. A statue of the white buffalo was placed in Snyder town square.

Snyder western swing festival started around 1990/91 and was hosted at their fine coliseum, which is rare to find in the towns of West Texas. Talking to Jim Shearer who is currently one of the co-directors of the western swing committee explained a little about how the festival started out. “The originators of the western swing festival needed the town and the county’s co-operation, because it’s heavily supported by volunteerism and without that I don’t think you could put one of these events on and also needed some brakes on the financial end. After about four years the organisers decided to re-locate elsewhere and kinda took the Chamber Of Commerce by storm!!! My sister Donna Fowler was the director of the Chamber Of Commerce at the time and she was very enthusiastic with anything to do with Snyder….anything that put us on the map…she was for!!! She enjoyed the national attention that western swing brought to Snyder. It gave us a national event and it utilised some of the facilities that were not being used to their maximum such as the coliseum.” When the festival moved away from Snyder, Jim and several other people who were involved with the festival approached Donna and they decided to start their own festival which over the years has gone from strength to strength. Donna passed away several years ago and in July 2007 she was inducted into the Western Swing Hall Of Fame along with Gloria Miers Herb Remington on steel guitar(Legends Of Western Swing) and Barbara Martin (editor of Western Swing Monthly).

The four day festival took place at the town’s coliseum over 6th – 9th June. Three bands each day with afternoon and evening performances starting on the Wednesday with the popular Clyde Brewer and the River Road Boys from Houston giving us two great shows. Playboys II sees former members of Bob Wills Texas Playboys coming together with Leon Rausch on vocals, Johnny Gimble on fiddle and mandolin and steel guitarist Herb Remington heading the band. The third band of the day was a new name to me fronted by Nashville’s western swing performer Mike Siler. Some excellent western swing from this artist……as well having a great singing voice Mike entertained the audience with his easy humorous style. Thursday had famed Texas singer Curtis Potter opening the day’s entertainment, followed by Kelly Spinks and to close both the afternoon and evening shows the Austin All-stars featuring Asleep At The Wheel’s piano pounder Floyd Domino and steel player Cindy Cashdoller who left AATW a little while ago, plus ex-Hot Club Of Cowtown vocalist and fiddle player Elena James giving us top class shows.

The main hall contained numerous stalls selling everything from jewellery, to cloths, to American Indian style rugs, to German roast nuts and of course CDs and DVDs. One stall was dedicated to Mike O’Daniel a very popular DJ and MC who tragically died in July 2006 while fishing on a Texas reservoir. Mike was a great nephew of W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel the famous Burrus Flour Mills manager who hired Bob Wills’ earlier band The Light Crust Doughboys and Eddie McAlvian and the Mavericksnow a scholarship fund for young musicians has been setup in Mike’s name.

More fine western swing started at noon on the Friday with Billy Mata and the Texas Tradition, Wild River Band (with Herb Remington on steel) and the ever popular Jake Hooker and the Outsiders all giving class performances. The Saturday started off similar to the first three days with favourite Bobby Flores and the Yellow Rose Band. Bobby is a fine vocalist and multi-talented musician who usually plays fiddle on stage and can be found playing fiddle with Ray Price and The Cherokee Cowboys. Eddie McAlvain and the Mavericks took the middle spot with top western swing band Jody Nix & The Texas Cowboys rounding off the entertainment. The evening shows started at 6.30pm and a little prior to this the heavens opened with a raging thunderstorm, with rain forming a solid sheet of water. Around twenty minutes into Bobby Flores opening the evening’s entertainment the whole area suffered an electrical blackout. Bobby along with the band’s fiddle player and drummer keeping time tried to carry the music on. It was a little reminiscent of the string quartet seen in the Titanic movies!!! Eventually the organisers had to move everyone out of the main hall and into the Gloria Miresglassed foyer for safety as the light faded. Around an hour later the power was restored and the show restarted with Eddie McAlvain giving us the very appropriate Bob Wills standard “Deep Water”!!! Jody Nix brought Snyder’s 2007 western swing festival to a close with another exciting performance. Although there was the one setback with the weather, it was another success for the Snyder West Texas Western Swing Festival. The sound was supplied by Doyle & Mary Marshall and spot-on everytime. Thanks to Sandra Salinas and Jim Shearer for their hospitality and the kind invitation.

After a few days staying with friend in Amarillo my next port of call was The Legends of Western Swing Festival at Wichita Falls. I first attended this festival with my wife in 2001 and was made very welcome by the lovely lady Mrs Gloria Miers (known fondly as Miss Gloria). Each year I receive a kind invitation to attend the Legends Festival and had the greatest pleasure to go back in 2005 and once again this year (2007). The Legends Festival was started by Miss Gloria’s husband (who passed away in 2000) and others nineteen years ago in Canton, Texas and has been in Wichita Falls for several years now.

The Legends Of Western Swing Festival runs over three days 14th – 16th June with four bands playing an evening and afternoon show. Special recognition was given to Mike O’Daniel, steel guitar ace Tom Morrell and James Lane a long time sponsor of the Legends festival who have all passed away over the past twelve months. Seating is setup as a concert venue with a dance floor to the rear where you can two-step to your heart’s delight. The excellent sound The Quebe Sisters Bandonce again was supplied by Doyle & Mary Marshall and several of the stallholders who were at Snyder could also be found at The Legends festival. For those who were feeling the strain of the day, or the dance floor you could get a massage from two professionals who had a special chair setup and were kept busy throughout the three days bringing a little relief to some of the fans.

Starting out on the Thursday Clyde Brewer & The River Road Boys opened the afternoon show followed by New Mexico’s Ted Scanlon & Desperados…both bands being long time performers at the Legends festivals. John England & the Western & the Swingers can be regularly found playing at Nashville’s Robert’s Western World on Lower Broadway, but on this occasion they played at the Legends festival for the second year in succession. Band members have played with the cream for country music stars over the years including Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline, Vince Gill, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and many more. The band also brought songbird Carolyn Martin with them John England & The Western Swingersfrom Nashville who joined the band on stage for a couple of numbers. The last band of the afternoon was the highly talented Quebe Sisters Band who only played the one show. I first saw Grace, Sophia and Hulda playing triple fiddle at Red Steagall’s Cowboy Gathering in Fort Worth in 2003. Since then the sisters have played at the Grand Ole Opry and been part of Ray Benson’s (Asleep At The Wheel) Ride With Bob stage show. The girls have now started singing in harmony very much in the style of the 40’s singing group The Andrews Sisters...exceptionally good and I’m sure these girls will go on to great things in the music business. The other members of the Quebe Sisters Band are their tutor and mentor Joey McKenzie and bassist Drew Phelps.

The evening show was very much as the afternoon, but with the legendary Ray Price and The Cherokee Cowboys taking the second spot on the schedule. Now at 82 years of age Ray still has a great voice and pulled in a near full house. The Cherokee Cowboys are the cream of the crop with five fiddle players making up the string section. All Ray’s top hits and more gave the fans a sensational show, with Ray coming out at the end of his performance to meet the fans for the customary photo shots and autographs which lasted well over an hour.

Ray Price and The Cherokee Cowboys

Friday opened with Justin Trevino and his band giving two excellent shows. Steel player Tom Morrell passed away in January 2007. His band The Timewarp Tophands has held together and was joined at the Legends festival by Pee Wee Whitewing, best known as a member of Hank Thompson’s Brazos Valley Boys. The other two bands of the day were the ever popular Ted Scanlon & The Desperados and Billy Mata and Texas Tradition. Graham with friends Doug and Betty Carter

Saturday had Jody Nix & the Texas Cowboys opening the show, followed by local band Eddie McAlvain and the Mavericks. One-time member of Ray Price’s band (mid-60’s), Johnny Bush and the Bandeleros have long been highly popular. Since the late 70’s Johnny has suffered problems with voice which was diagnosed as spastic dysphonia a rare neurological condition. Recent treatment using botox injections has corrected this problem and Johnny Bush gave two faultless performances on the last day of the festival. Bobby Flores and the Yellow Rose band were the last band giving two excellent performances during the afternoon and evening. Saturday was also a special occasion as it was my birthday with friends Betty and Doug Carter surprising me with cards and a birthday cake that brought many congratulations as folk joined in the occasion and helped themselves to a slice of cake.

All the hard work by Miss Gloria, daughter Melinda and the team of helpers once again paid off with another successful Legends of Western Swing Festival. A great big thank you to Miss Gloria for her kind invitation and I look forward to the next time I can get over to Wichita Falls for the Legends of Western Swing Festival.
July 2007