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October 29, 2013 > Bring on the banjo: Sunol Regional hosts Cowboy Hootenanny Folk Festival

Bring on the banjo: Sunol Regional hosts Cowboy Hootenanny Folk Festival

By Sara Giusti

There's nothing like the twang of a banjo and the twirl of a square dance on a bright fall day, whether 150 years ago or 2013. Sunol Regional Wilderness brings back its old-time roots with the "Cowboy Hootenanny Folk Festival" on Saturday, November 2.

While this year's "Cowboy Hootenanny" is in its first "official" year, Sunol Regional Wilderness is no stranger to holding many annual events celebrating and spreading awareness of its history - Pioneer Day may come to mind. The park decided to go a different route this year, focusing more on celebrating the cultural aspects of Sunol's ranching and cowboy history. "It's more of a music festival this time," said Erica Herron, Supervising Naturalist for East Bay Regional Parks. After all, "hootenanny" itself means an informal gathering or party with folk music.

And plenty of folk music is definitely in order. Banjo-ologist Gordy Ohliger, "The Musical Mark Twain," will lead the crowd in a performance and history of the banjo, playing real vintage instruments from the time period. Santa Cruz-based band Jimmy Chickenpants will also take the stage, crooning bluegrass and "newer-grass" tunes. With such old-timey music, dancing is a must: the festival also includes square dancing with Bob Elling, a professional square dance caller, as well as performances from two Bay Area clogging groups, the Diablo Mountain Cloggers and the Clogging Express Team.

On top of music and dance performances, the "Cowboy Hootenanny" offers a range of activities, from branding demonstrations, pony rides, a petting zoo, making clothespin dolls and ropes, to tug-of-war games, sack races, and stilts. Each activity and game harks back to the ranching and cowboy era of the mid-to-late 1800s; classic games that have stood the test of time.

The Hootenanny will also have educational activities for both children and adults in the barn on festival grounds. These Barn Shindigs include a presentation about Sunol's cattle and ranching history; vintage clothes dress-up for "Ranch Dressing"; a Living History Timeline; tasting of traditional food from the era; and historical, firsthand accounts from the Geary Family, Sunol Valley's oldest family. "Real live descendants [from the Geary Family] will be talking about the ranching history of the area, Great Depression, and more," said Herron.

The Geary Family began living in Sunol Valley in 1865 after Patrick and Mary Ann Geary were married in Fremont. For decades, the Gearys farmed and raised their families, despite their land and other surrounding farms being purchased by wealthy construction engineer Willis Brinker. Surprisingly and ironically, Brinker was a vegetarian cattle rancher. His construction company built the original San Francisco Airport and part of the Bay Bridge. This is only a tidbit of the unique, quirky history the Geary Family and "Cowboy Hootenanny" have to offer.

Admission to the Hootenanny is free, and parking is only $5. While there are plans to provide a food truck, the park encourages attendees to bring a picnic lunch, and recommends calling ahead about food purchase options.

The "Cowboy Hootenanny Folk Festival" will prove to be a refreshing reverie away from technology. Come on out, put down the iPhone, and jump in the square dance line.

Cowboy Hootenanny Folk Festival
Saturday, Nov 2
11 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Sunol-Ohlone Regional Wilderness
1895 Geary Rd., Sunol
(510) 544-3249
Free Admission, $5 parking fee

Entertainment Schedule:

On Stage:
11 a.m.: Welcome by Board member Ayn Weiskamp
11:30 a.m.: Diablo Mountain Cloggers and the Clogging Express Team
12:45 p.m. - 1:45 p.m.: Banjo-ologist Gordy Ohliger performances and history
2:15 p.m. - 3:15 p.m.: Square Dancing with Caller Bob Elling
3:30 p.m. - 4 p.m.: Music by Jimmy Chickenpants

Barn Shindigs:
11:15 a.m. - 11:45 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. -3 p.m.: Cows, Cowboys and Conservation with Sheila Barry, Natural Resource and Livestock Advisor
Noon - 12:30 p.m. and 1:45 p.m. - 2:15 p.m.: Ranch Dressing
12:30 p.m. - 1 p.m.: Living History Timeline
3:15 p.m. - 4 p.m.: Geary Family History

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