As one of the 15th annual Southeastern Cowboy Gathering's signature musicians, Catherine Thompson is thrilled to experience her childhood dream while entertaining patrons of all ages. Looking forward to performing Saturday, the 16-year-old Adairsville resident initially took the stage at Booth Western Art Museum's event as a member of The Peach Pickers trio.
"I first performed at the Booth Southeastern Cowboy Gathering in March of 2013," she said. "This was after my older sister organized our band, The Peach Pickers, which included her, my brother and me. I played the mandolin in our trio. As we were excited to perform, she called many places offering our entertainment.
"The Booth museum accepted our request to play. I was especially elated that we would be performing at a Western museum for at that time and to this day I have wished to be a cowgirl. To have had the opportunity to sing at a grand museum, … [like] the Booth, was such a highlight for me."
A home-schooled student, Thompson started her musical journey at age 7. After taking piano lessons, she taught herself to play various instruments, including guitar, fiddle, mandolin and bass.
Along with expanding her music's reach at area festivals, community events and theaters, Thompson also will release her debut album, “Western Serenade” later this month. In November, her musical talents captured the Western Music Association's Female Yodeler of the Year accolade.
"I will be performing primarily Western and country songs at the Booth Western Art Museum on March 10 between 10:30 and 11:30 [a.m.], also a few songs on the Chuck Wagon Hill at lunch and at the Open Mic Stage between 2 and 3 p.m.," Thompson said. "In playing at the Booth, I have most enjoyed seeing my audience of all ages involved, pleased and smiling, singing along and even dancing.
"There are two favorite experiences I can think of now: First one being when a patron had been listening, rose and began to [leave] and promptly returned when I began my next number. The second situation, which occurs often, is when I sing a humorous song and cause listeners to shake with prolonged laughter. What I wish for others to retain after my performances is an appreciation for the wholesome values, that mean so much to me and which are portrayed in my music."
From Thompson to the event's featured entertainer, Dave Stamey, the three-day Southeastern Cowboy Gathering — which will kick off Thursday — will highlight the sounds of the cattle drive era.
"We, the Booth, are thrilled to showcase the talents and skills of our local artisans,” said Tom Shinall, director of marketing for the Booth museum. “It is especially exciting with Catherine. Her and her family ... [have] been a part of our events for many years now. Catherine originally began performing at the Booth as part of a sibling band called The Peach Pickers. As time has progressed, her siblings have moved, but Catherine has continued to support the Booth and our events with her musical talents. We have watched her grow and hone her skills. She is extremely talented, specifically in the art of yodeling. We were very proud and excited to see her compete and win the 2017 Western Music Association Female Yodeler of the Year.
"The Cowboy Gathering celebrates the art of the cowboy — actual art, the food, cowboy poetry and music," he said adding, this year's event was named Southeast Tourism Society's Top 20 Event in the Southeast for March 2018. "From a music standpoint, we want to offer a broad range of musical offerings during the gathering. From local performers ... to regional professionals, to an open mic for any skill level, culminating with the Featured Entertainer Concert, it is our hope that attendees of the gathering gain a better understanding of the role music played in the development of the American cowboy."
In addition to live entertainment, the Southeastern Cowboy Gathering from Thursday to Saturday will offer numerous activities that are designed to celebrate the West.
The event’s programs — such as a gallery walk with Featured Artist Z.Z. Wei, Southeastern Chuck Wagon Invitational, Cowboy Church, Cowboy Poetry Rodeo Open Mic and children’s art activities — will be presented inside and on the grounds of the Booth museum, 501 Museum Drive in Cartersville, and the nearby Grand Theatre, 7 N. Wall St.
"By exploring the music, poetry, food and other aspects of the cowboy era, the Southeastern Cowboy Gathering is designed to help connect the artwork in the permanent collection of the Booth Western Art Museum with the real lives lived by Western settlers and others,” Booth Executive Director Seth Hopkins said. “By learning firsthand from a chuck wagon crew, re-enactor, or through cowboy poetry and music, visitors can gain a deeper appreciation of the artwork in the Booth. Hopefully this changes the way they look at the art when they visit the museum.
"The gathering is one of the most important and largest Western events in the South. Several thousand people usually attend, along with nationally recognized entertainers. It also features one of the largest chuck wagon gatherings east of the Mississippi. The first [Southeastern] Cowboy Gathering was in 2004, just seven months after the museum opened. That event was pretty small, with only three chuck wagons, a few hundred people and some local performers as entertainment. Today, the event has grown to one of the largest Western-themed events in the South."
As Hopkins noted, a key component of the Southeastern Cowboy Gathering is the Southeastern Chuck Wagon Invitational, which will feature five teams this year: Double X Ranch, Etowah Cattle Co., Forest Manna Camp, Greenhorn Cattle Co. and Rockin’ TP.
On Saturday, from 8 a.m. to noon, every team will prepare five dishes: country fried steak, mashed potatoes, beans, biscuits or corn bread and cobbler. While the Booth will supply boxes of food with the same ingredients — cooking oil, meat/country fried steak, potatoes, onions, beans, flour, sugar, fruit/peach, milk, butter and eggs — the crews can bring other items that would have been available during the 19th century cattle drive era.
Each crew will serve their creations to diners at high noon on the Booth’s festival grounds. Since this offering is limited, interested patrons are encouraged to purchase their meal tickets — $17.50 plus tax — in advance by calling the Booth at 770-387-1300 or visiting http://boothmuseum.org.
"For the 2018 Chuck Wagon Invitational, we invited the best chuck wagon crews east of the Mississippi to participate," Shinall said. "While this is not a competition, we still expect the chuck wagons, the food prepared and the dress of the crew members, to the extent possible, be authentic to that period.
"We ask crew members to interact with the public and describe what they are doing as often as they are able without sacrificing the quality of their food or falling behind schedule. … The overall purpose of the Chuck Wagon Invitational is to educate the public about the importance of the chuck wagon to the cowboys of the mid to late 1800s cattle drive era."
Opened in August 2003, the Booth is known worldwide for its extensive collection of contemporary Western art. The 120,000-square-foot museum, which became an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution in 2006, offers a variety of exhibit spaces, some of which include the Civil War gallery; Sculpture Court; a presidential gallery; the “Picturing America” photography gallery; and the interactive children’s gallery, Sagebrush Ranch.
"The Southeastern Cowboy Gathering points out the importance of the chuck wagon to cowboys who drove cattle, and the need for cowboy music and poetry to fight off boredom," Hopkins said. "One of our goals is to bring the art to life, letting the visitor feel like they met someone who stepped right out of a painting or sculpture.
"We hope the event provides the opportunity for visitors to reflect on the stories of the West and decide whether an [artist] is buying into the mythic cowboy and romanticizing the lifestyle or busting the myth altogether. We hope the event allows visitors to learn more about the actual history of the American West and not the mythological West of movies and television. There isn’t anything wrong with the movie view of the West, we just hope people don’t take it for granted that it was really like that in the Old West."
For a complete schedule of the Southeastern Cowboy Gathering and event fees, call 770-387-1300 or visit http://boothmuseum.org.