Back in the Saddle 

The classic Western returns to the Byrd.

During a festival at the Byrd Theatre in Carytown Saturday, Oct 30 , Parrish hopes to recapture the spirit of those Saturday afternoons that attracted kids to darkened theaters. The one-day event, called "Saturday Afternoon at the Westerns," will begin at noon with live Western entertainment and sing-alongs by Parrish, followed by a newsreel, a cartoon, two short-subject films and a Western cliffhanger. The feature is "Southward, Ho!" (1939), Roy Rogers' first film with famous sidekick Gabby Hayes.

The event is a benefit for the Byrd Theatre Foundation. Parrish developed the idea with Harry Daniel, a film preservationist he met this year at the Western Film Festival in Williamsburg. Should it go well this time, Parrish says, he'd like to do the event every six weeks or so.

In 1999, at age 45, Parrish quit his 25-year job at Verizon to head west. He eventually made his way to Taos, N.M., where he began performing as a Western revivalist at festivals and tourist dude ranches. He became a cowboy balladeer, he says, after years of frustration trying to make it as a mainstream musician in bands. He returned to Richmond recently because of an illness in his family.

During his time on the range, Parrish self-produced three CDs, including a children's CD this year. His job skills rely not only on his musical experience, but on his memories of the Western when he was a kid. In the '40s, he recalls, Roy Rogers would come to Richmond with his horse, Trigger, to promote his movies, and his sister once won a set of cap guns that was taped under her seat. "I wanted to capture that feel," he says of the upcoming festival. "It's sort of a whole nostalgia day. Everything is circa about 1944."

The Western that survives on the screen today is generally a dark genre inhabited by the antihero gunslingers popularized by Clint Eastwood and director Sergio Leone in their so-called spaghetti Westerns. They're a comparative rarity and a far cry from the films to be shown in Parrish's festival. The genre was once a bedrock of the film industry. Unlike even the gritty cop stories and trial dramas made for adults of the day, Westerns dazzled children with more innocent tales of marshals and badmen, cowboys and Indians. Men and women endlessly chased each other on horseback across the screen in weekly serials — precursors to the television shows that were easy-to-follow continuing stories made mostly for children.

Parrish says he really enjoys capturing those memories with his performances. And it's a thrill, he says, to attempt to recapture the entire experience of his youth. He wanted to take it so far as to offer admission and refreshments at 1940s prices. But then he remembered the event is a fund-raiser. "If I had my way it would be 25 cents to get in," he says, "but we wouldn't raise much money that way." S

"Saturday Afternoon at the Westerns" takes place Oct 30, noon-4 p.m. at the Byrd Theatre. Tickets are $5 for adults, and $2 for children younger than 12. Both are encouraged to dress in Western costume.


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