Known for his trick-roping skills, Bruce Brannen has turned into a fixture at the Southeastern Cowboy Festival & Symposium. Taking part in the event for more than 10 years, the 71-year-old continues to introduce today’s audiences to a bygone art.
“It is hard to pinpoint exactly what I enjoy the most about being a part of this event, because it is like it was created just for me,” Brannen said. “Being a lifelong cowboy freak, it, of course, is right up my alley, because of the gunfighters, chuck wagons, Indians and in general, a celebration of the cowboy culture. Yee-haw!
“I am also a Western artist, so this is like a trip to Mecca for me. These are all things that certainly make it worth the trip for sure, but probably the best thing about the whole event is the people. The staff at the Booth has made us feel like family and treat us just like it. Then, when you add in fellow performers getting together again, it really becomes a family reunion.”
Brannen’s roping demonstrations will be one component of the Booth’s 17th annual Southeastern Cowboy Festival & Symposium, which will celebrate the American West through art lectures, music and children’s activities. Presented by the Booth Western Art Museum, the event will held from Thursday to Sunday, Oct. 27.
“Our shows at the Cowboy Festival & Symposium consists of trick-roping, the art of the bullwhip, some precision shooting — by our own little sure-shot, Vernelle — a little singing and cowboy poetry,” Brannen said, referring to his wife, Vernelle. “This is my favorite place to work because the people are into the cowboy culture and so are more receptive to what we do than some other places.
“When we do the shows for the school kids on Thursday and Friday, as a career teacher, I can't help but slip a little education in on them. Kids these days have a much more extensive knowledge of aliens and zombies than cowboys and to me that is pretty sad, so while I've got them, I'm going to give them my best pitch.”
A resident of Alabama, Brannen proudly shares he always has considered himself to be a cowboy. Along with his first memory being when he was on a horse at 3 years old, in his youth he assisted his grandfather with his cattle — a task that he loved and put his “heart into.”
“I rode colts and caught cattle and competed in rodeo seriously for 40 years,” Brannen said. “A call from Troy University about doing a trick-roping number in their production of ‘The Will Rogers Follies’ literally changed my life. I started learning to trick rope for this event but it has led to so many other opportunities.
“All of these skills acquired over a lifetime of cowboying have come together in this new career. I have begun to realize that as a performer, I am an ambassador of the cowboy. That is a sobering thought to me because of the reverence in which I hold the cowboy life. In many situations, I realize that I am the closest thing to a cowboy that many people will ever see, so I must do it well and portray the cowboy in the best light.”
Echoing Brannen’s comments, Jim Dunham — director of special projects and historian for the Booth museum — shares the demonstrator’s talents are a rarity in today’s world.
“I think our festival that we’ve been doing now for quite a few years is probably the best example in the country of reproducing the flavor of the American West and giving people an idea of what the old days were like,” Dunham said. “People today can’t go anywhere to see trick and fancy roping, which is very complicated, very difficult to do, and Bruce Brannen does that. He does it in the same style as Will Rogers and the trick ropers of yesteryear.
“… So people get to experience something that used to be extremely popular in rodeo and Western entertainment. If you’ve never seen it, this is a real special thing to be able to do these loops and tricks with ropes.”
Situated at 501 Museum Drive in Cartersville, the Booth is known worldwide for its extensive collection of contemporary Western art. The 120,000-square-foot venue became an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution in 2006. The museum 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.
“We really hope the attendees to the Southeastern Cowboy Festival & Symposium will have a greater understanding and connection to the art in the Booth’s permanent collection through their interaction with the artists and [entertainers] who are part of the event, as well as the living history offerings,” said Seth Hopkins, executive director of the Booth. “This includes the history shown in many of the works of art that feature cowboys and cowgirls, Native Americans, and others portrayed by the re-enactors, demonstrators and entertainers at the event. We hope all of these activities provide greater insight for the visitor’s experiences while exploring the galleries in the museum.”
Following a sold-out school program on Thursday morning, the Festival & Symposium will feature a presentation by artist and illustrator James Warhola in the Bergman Theatre at 7 p.m.
The event will continue Friday in the Bergman Theatre with the Western Art History Symposium, which will offer four lectures, starting at 10:30 a.m.
“I most enjoy the symposium portion of the event — it is the main educational component to the weekend,” Hopkins said. “Historically, we theme the symposium speakers around current exhibitions. This year’s Western Art History Symposium lineup is primarily focused on [Andy] Warhol since we are in the midst our major Warhol exhibition.
“… The ‘Warhol and the West’ exhibition is being well-received. Attendance has been second best ever, only behind our first big Ansel Adams show. The guests enjoy learning about Warhol’s fascination of the West and that they are able to view Warhol’s last suite he was working on before he passed.”
On Saturday, the museum’s grounds will be filled with activity, beginning at 10 a.m. One of the event’s staples, the Shadows of the Past’s re-enactments of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral will be performed at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m.
“To my knowledge, the Southeastern Cowboy Festival & Symposium at the Booth Western Art Museum is the largest and best event of its kind in the state of Georgia, and Doc Holliday’s Shadows of the Past is honored to have been an important part of their entertainment lineup since the festival began,” said Allen Clark with Shadows of the Past. “The festival is fun for the whole family, and it educates and entertains with everything ‘Western’ from Native American dancing to Cowboy stories, exciting gunfight re-enactments, traveling medicine shows and country/western music.
"Doc Holliday’s Shadows of the Past has been entertaining audiences across north Georgia and Alabama since 1998, as well as on the television screen. … I have personally been a member of the group since 2008 and have portrayed different characters through the years, like Ike Clanton, Buffalo Bill and Doc Holliday. It is exciting to entertain audiences of both young and old in a way that they enjoy the show, while at the same time learn something about the cowboy spirit and the history of the West.”
Later on Saturday, the Sons of the Pioneers will perform at 7 p.m. at The Grand Theatre, 7 N. Wall St. in Cartersville.
“This year’s concert is set to be one of our very best,” Hopkins said. “For more than 75 years, the Sons of the Pioneers have performed the music of the American West — the landscape, people and culture.
“Signature songs, such as ‘Tumbling Tumbleweeds,’ ‘Cool Water’ and ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky,’ have become forever entwined into the very fabric of the West. Their songs are unabashed love songs to the West, one of the things that makes them different. Tickets are $25 plus tax for Booth museum members and $35 plus tax for the general public.”
Concluding Sunday, Oct. 27, the Festival & Symposium will feature Cowboy Church at 11 a.m. and activities on the museum’s grounds from noon to 4 p.m.
Admission to the Southeastern Cowboy Festival & Symposium will be $12 plus tax for adults; $10 plus tax for individuals 65 and older; $9 plus tax for students; and free for children 12 and younger, museum members and active military personnel with ID.
For more information on the event, contact the Booth at 770-387-1300 or visit https://boothmuseum.org.