Wild West Weekend

Fans of gun-handling, roping and cowboy songs are in for a treat

The Wild West is back in the spotlight, with recent movies such as “True Grit” and “Cowboys and Aliens” revisiting the period. But for the stars of the Atlanta International Auto Show’s Wild West Weekend, those days never went out of style.

“I’ve cowboyed all my life,” said Bruce Brannen, an expert in roping and the bullwhip. The Alabama native began working in rodeos and stockyards as a teenager, then spent 33 years teaching drafting and art to high school students. He took up the trick rope 17 years ago and gained proficiency through constant practice.

Brannen’s cowboy skills go beyond the lasso. He’s an excellent trick shooter and gun spinner, and he even writes cowboy poetry. His portion of the Wild West Show will feature rope maneuvers, which he is quick to point out don’t involve trickery.

“People are used to being tricked and fooled, and I don’t think that exists in the Wild West format. What you see is what it is; people doing things as a result of hard work as opposed to technology,” he said.

Brannen has performed his rope magic throughout the United States at festivals, cowboy symposiums and even libraries, which book him to promote summer reading programs.

Cartersville resident Cindy Smith traces her interest in cowboys to her childhood, when she watched old TV Westerns with her father. Even then she knew she wanted to write about the Old West. In 2009, she published her first novel about Contention City, Ariz., and the famous gunfight at the OK Corral; two more books followed.

About five years ago, Smith took up the mandolin and guitar and started writing her own Western-style songs. She has released two CDs and was recently was honored by the Georgia Country and Gospel Music Association as 2011 Songwriter of the Year. Her songs “Pretty Alice” and “Two Pennies” were singled out for the award.

“I’ve always wanted to do cowboy music. There is not a lot of music for a cowgirl, however, so I started writing it myself,” Smith said. “I’ve always been a fan of Marty Robbins. I bill myself as a female Marty Robbins, because I like telling stories of the Old West from the perspective of the barmaid or senorita.”

Smith sometimes performs with the Cartersville band, Sundown, but she will perform solo at the auto show, singing traditional and original Western songs as well as original bluegrass tunes.

The community of Wild West performers is small, and Brannen and Smith have worked with all the others who will appear during the auto show’s Wild West Weekend. “They are a great bunch of guys. We make a good team,” Smith said.

Sharing the Wild West stage will be Jim Dunham of the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville. Dunham is a Western historian featured in “Tales of the Guns” on the History Channel and “The American Experience: Wyatt Earp” on PBS. Considered one of the best single-action shooters around, he will display his gun-handling skills and give a humorous presentation about cowboys.

T.B. Burton of Canton, who co-authored the “Time in Contention” trilogy of books with Smith, is another fast-draw artist who will show off his gun skills. TV viewers know Burton as Doc Holliday from the Turner South series “Liars and Legends” and re-enactments of the gunfight at the OK Corral.

Other attractions at the Wild West Weekend will include an authentic cowboy chuck wagon, set up in a trail drive cooking camp, and Robert Brooks, said to be a dead-ringer for cowboy comedian Al “Fuzzy” St. John, the sidekick in numerous Lash LaRue movies from the 1940s.

Wild West events like this are “one way to keep cowboys alive in spirit,” Smith said. “Some of us never want to outgrow it, it’s a fantasy we have all our lives.”