You don’t usually expect royalty to hold court, oversee the realm and do the entertaining as well, but Lauralee Northcott is a special case. The Grand Lady of Winthrop’s 71st annual ’49er Days celebration — her husband, Clayton, is the Grand Marshal — is also a founding member of the Methow Valley’s acclaimed Horse Crazy Cowgirl Band, which has won numerous national awards and a devoted following with its upbeat Western sound and heavenly harmonies.
Lauralee and Clayton will be fully engaged in providing the expected regal presence at ’49er Days events, but on Saturday afternoon Lauralee will also be on the band shell stage at Mack Lloyd in her Horse Crazy persona to bestow some cowgirl music on her subjects.
You won’t see Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth doing that, although Princess Kate seems like someone who might give it a go if you let her keep the hat.
Each of the valley’s signature events has its own traditions, character and appeal. I like the ’49er Days event because it actively transitions us from the slushy tail-end of a wonderful winter to the arrowleaf balsamroot-adorned cusp of summer. It’s fun, it appeals to all ages, it’s a hit with visitors, the weather usually cooperates, and it is an authentic celebration of the valley’s Western heritage.
In fact, most of the packers, guides, horsemen/women, ranchers and wranglers who participate are demonstrating skills they use all the time, not just for public consumption. The Ride to Rendezvous that finishes in Winthrop on Friday is genuine immersion in the Old West experience.
This is also the time of year when we start adjusting to full-occupancy, full-time. This weekend marks the unofficial end of the “shoulder season,” but my own observations and those of other locals suggest that tourists haven’t been waiting for an event to trigger a visit to the Methow. Since the North Cascades Highway opened on April 22, traffic has been pouring down off of Washington Pass. The westbound traffic on Sunday afternoon, when I was returning from “the coast,” was relentless and significantly populated with recreational vehicles headed home.
Joining the May fray this week, once again, was the annual Zumiez contingent — hundreds of store managers and other company leaders congregating for intense sales training and team-building. Company founder Tom Campion has been bringing his troops here for years. They fill up much of the available lodging at the west end of the valley and celebrate their hard work with a big celebration at the Winthrop Barn.
Up next is the Methow Valley Memorial Day Rodeo, returning to the arena after the Labor Day Rodeo of 2015 was canceled because of poor air quality conditions.
If you think that all this activity mostly impacts adults, read the story on page A6 about the 2016 ’49er Days junior royalty — four Liberty Bell High School students who were so expressive about their love for the valley that organizers decided to include them all in the junior court.
They’ve all grown up here and are involved in a wide range of activities, none of which involve wearing antique garb. The last time I saw Chase Vander Yacht was playing soccer for Liberty Bell a few days ago. A few days before that, Mollie Houser was tossing the shot and javelin at a track meet. Perhaps 40 years from now one or more of them will be leading the parade as Grand Lady or Grand Marshal.
The coolest thing about our “royalty” is that they are, in the best Methow Valley sense, really just common folks like the rest of us. Curtsies and bows aren’t necessary, nor is any of that “highness” stuff. It’ll be nice to see Lauralee and Clayton waving from a horse-drawn wagon during Saturday’s parade, but I’m also looking forward to listening to her and the other performers later in the day. In the kingdom of the Methow, it’s the rank-and-file that have the privileges.