Each year around National Cowboy Poetry Gathering time, students from northeastern Nevada are immersed in the music, poetry, stories and cultures of the cowboy West. Over 7,200 young people from kindergarten through high school experience cowboy poetry, hear excellent western music, learn about gearmaking traditions, and share their own creative work focused on life in the rural West. Parents and Educators, to register for school programs, please contact Jan Petersen by phone at 775-738-5668 (evenings please).

Youth Education programs are popular features of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and space is always limited, so make your reservations as early as possible.

Questions about the teen poetry programs? Please contact Kelly Moon at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Questions about the artists or education programs at the Western Folklife Center should be directed to Katie Aiken, Western Folklife Center Programs Manager at 775-738-7508 ext. 223 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Youth festival exhibition tour, photo by Charlie Ekburg Western Folklife Center Youth Festival
Each year, 3rd and 4th grade students are invited to visit the Western Folklife Center to learn about cowboy life, be the first visitors to our latest exhibit, and have some hands-on educational fun trying leather stamping and how to tie their own western wild rag donated by Wrangler. For three days, all the arms leaning on the Pioneer Saloon bar will hold a sarsaparilla as Elko Couny kids experience a taste of the ranching culture of their home region.

For the 32nd Gathering, the Youth Festival will be held at the Western Folklife Center from January 19-21, 2016. Each group will participate in an 80-minute session, and the youth festival is appropriate for grades 3 and 4. Cost: $2 per student.

Student Art Show
From January until April, artwork from students around Elko County will be displayed in the Western Folklife Center’s G Three Bar Theater. The elevator lobby will feature photographic works from high school students.

Student Art, photo by Charlie Ekburg

Art teachers and instructors are encouraged to work with students to create work for this Student Art Show. In honor of our guests from the Northern Plains, the suggested theme of the exhibition is Great Plains: Cowboy Songs, Stories and Poems. We're taking inspiration this year from the cowboys and the hearty northerners of the prairies, from the buffalo down to the prairie dogs and the grasses—use the land of big skies to inspire big ideas.

All grades are welcome to enter artwork; there is no cost for participation. Exhibit-ready artwork should be delivered to the Western Folklife Center no later than Friday, January 8, 2016. Artwork will be on display from Tuesday, January 19 through Saturday, April 9, 2016. A reception will be held for artists, parents, friends and the public on Tuesday, March 22, 2016, from 4:30-6:30pm. Due to space limitations, a maximum of 25 pieces from each school will be accepted for exhibition.

School assembly, photo by Charlie Ekburg

On-Site Assemblies
Early in the week of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, cowboy artists travel to schools throughout Elko County, to entertain and educate students about cowboy poetry and traditional music.

This year, there are two assembly options:

* Canadian poet Doris Daly and Cree musician and storyteller Ed Peekeekoot

* Traditional songster Pipp Gillette and singer-songwriter Trinity Seely

These programs are excellent for all grade levels. Performance times are flexible and established at booking on a first-come, first-served basis, depending on school locations. Dates for on-site assemblies are available for Monday, January 25, and Tuesday, January 26, 2016. Cost: $300 for one assembly, $500 for two assemblies (by same performers at the same school).

Cow Kids’ Stampede
We always offer a great band for the Cow Kids’ Stampede held at the Elko Convention Center Auditorium! On Wednesday, January 27, 2016, we offer two 45-minute show performances from which to choose, at 10:00 am or 12:30 pm. The program will feature musical group T. Scot Wilburn and The Shut Up-n-Playboys, who will delight with their vintage western swing sound that will get all toes to tappin' and all hearts racin'. The show is appropriate for students in all grades. Cost: $2 per student.

Young Buckaroo Open Mic & Talent Showcase
This is an opportunity for students 18 and under to share their creativity with the public, in a safe and welcoming atmosphere in the Elko Convention Center. It’s a highlight for our Gathering audiences, too! 
Young Poet in 2009, photo by Tamara Kubacki
Young folks are encouraged to perform original poetry, classic recitations, western music and dance. Session registration begins at 5:45 pm in the Elko Convention Center Lobby. The event will be from 6:15-7:30pm on Thursday, January 28, 2016, in the Elko Convention Center’s Turquoise Room, hosted by Deb Howard. This event is free to both participants and audience. Please encourage your students to participate!

2013 Poetry Slam, photo by Charlie Ekburg Teen Poetry & Music Slam during the 32nd Gathering!
Calling all teens interested in presenting poetry, spoken word, short prose or songs as we kick off the Gathering by inviting you to share your skills onstage at the Western Folklife Center from 5:00-6:30pm on Wednesday, January 27, 2016.
This is a fun, free opportunity to share original work, present classic poetry or song, and meet master poets in a friendly environment. Signups begin at 4:00pm in the Western Folklife Center lobby. Material can be original, classic, or cowboy. Presentations are limited to 5-8 minutes. Interested teens are also welcome to take the free poetry recitation class listed below.

Poetry Writing for Teens
Word wrangler and poet Paul Zarzyski will share his passion for the written word with teens with a deep-seated interest in writing. Students will receive heart-to-pen guidance on finding inspiration and expressing passion on the page. Students should bring some in-progress writing to reflect on and share in the workshop. Any subject matter is welcome. High School Teachers: Space is limited to 20, so please help us identify serious writing students intersted in this intensive workshop with a master poet. The workshop will be Tuesday, January 26, 2016 from 9:30am-1:00pm. Appropriate for grades 9-12, participation is free. To register, contact Kelly Moon at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

From Page to Stage during the 32nd Gathering
In this poetry recitation class, cowboy poets and reciters Randy Rieman and Joel Nelson show how they breathe life into the written word—and thrill audiences while doing it. This will be an intense, fun and hands-on coaching session for interested teens to learn to present poetry, from masters of the craft. High School Teachers: Space is limited, so priority will be given to students participating in Poetry Out Loud or who have shown a commitment to reciting poetry. The workshop will take place the morning and early afternoon of Wednesday, January 27, 2016, starting at 9:00am. Appropriate for grades 9-12, participation is free. To register, contact Kelly Moon at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The History of Western Swing
Hot Club of Cowtown showcases one of their favorite topics—Western Swing—a genre emerging in the 1930s and 40s that drew on the happening music of its time, including big band, ragtime, blues, Mexican music and gospel. Bassist Jake Erwin, guitarist Whit Smith and fiddler Elana James will bring a cultural and historical perspective to the genre of Western swing and the role this music played in American popular music in a talk illustrated with performances of 5 to 6 songs showing the various influences including fiddle tunes, jazz and popular music. This program is offered to purchasers of Gathering daily passes, but we will open up limited free seats to high school and college students, no pass required. The presentation will take place at the Elko Convention Center Auditorium on Thursday, January 28, 2016 (in the afternoon, times to be announced). Music, humanities, and history classes will have first priority.

We thank Barrick Gold of North America, Inc., Bretzlaff Foundation, Newmont Mining, Reno Rodeo Charitable Foundation, Nevada Arts Council, NV Energy, Nevada Department of Cultural Affairs, National Endowment for the Arts, Wrangler, and the many other businesses, organizations and individual donors for their generous support of the Western Folklife Center’s Youth Education Stakeholder Program.

Our student education programs cost the Western Folklife Center between $8 - $12 per child. We are able to underwrite these programs to keep costs affordable through the support of federal, state, business, foundation, and individual sources. Please consider sending letters to your legislators expressing the importance of these invaluable programs.