elko nevada

A Tribute to George Gund III

George Gund, III May 7, 1937 - January 15, 2013

By Hal Cannon, Western Folklife Center Founding Director

CPG2006 General Scenes
CPG2006 General Scenes

George Gund III, friend and longtime supporter of the Western Folklife Center, passed away January 15 in Palm Springs, California, where he had been suffering from stomach cancer. He will be missed.

George was a great friend to many of us and it is fair to say that without his support there would not be a Western Folklife Center today. In 2013 the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is such a well-known and beloved event that it seems as it if it has always been here. Things were different in 1984 when we were out trying to raise funds to start it. We approached many of the corporate sponsors behind rodeo and other cowboy events and virtually all of them laughed us out of the room at the idea of cowboys reciting poetry. Individual supporters were no easier to find. George came forward as the only individual contributor that first year and wrote a check. He saw the promise of the idea and was willing to take a chance.

He joined our Board of Trustees in 1986, making him the longest-tenured board member in the organization. In recent years his son, George Gund IV (Crunchy), joined the board as well. For many years George hosted legendary board retreats at his ranch in Lee, Nevada, or at one of his homes in Palm Springs and on Stuart Island in the San Juan Islands. When the Western Folklife Center had the opportunity to purchase the old Pioneer Hotel out of bankruptcy, George bought the building on our behalf. In recognition of all he did to create a home for the organization, we named the G Three Bar Theater after his brand.

Today, there have been articles published about George all over the country. In Cleveland, his hometown, he is being remembered as former owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and as a patron of the arts. In the Bay Area, his adopted home, he is being remembered as a founder of the San Francisco Film Festival and the professional hockey team, the San Jose Sharks. In most articles people talk about his world-class eyebrows, his unconventional ways, his Bohemian nature. But what all these various articles prove is how wide his interests were, how many friends he had, and how generously he supported the things and the people he loved.

PCD001-072_CPG2001_Sue_Rosoff_1 4x6 copy
PCD001-072_CPG2001_Sue_Rosoff_1 4x6 copy

George helped several cities become better places. Here in Elko we know yet another aspect of George that few of his urban friends had the chance to experience. He was an avid rancher and attended the Nevada Cattlemen’s meetings each year. He was always interested in cowboy traditions but he also wanted to know the latest about breeds and new ways of grazing. George was a horticulturalist. He loved taking people to his gardens in Palm Springs and picking exotic citrus fruits as they strolled the grounds. He had an extraordinary eye for art. His collections of Asian arts, Northwest Indian wood carvings, and western drawings and paintings are all unique. He did not buy art for investment. He collected art that he loved.

George loved ordinary people from bellhops to hockey-playing kids to young filmmakers. He was deferential to everyone. Often people had no idea of his wealth. He did not put on airs. He loved cowboys and ranch people and was involved from the beginning in the Folklife Center’s attempts at ”grass roots diplomacy” through international cultural exchanges with ranching people around the world. He not only funded some of these efforts but acted as photographer and friend during fieldwork documenting Australian drovers and South American gauchos.

It seems that most people who knew George have at least a few stories about him. Every time you were with him, the occasion turned into an adventure. Usually he didn’t initiate the adventure so much as bring it out of those who are adventurous at heart. I’d like to tell a couple of personal stories about George. The first is mine; the second is from my dear wife Teresa who now serves as a Trustee of the Western Folklife Center.

When I was traveling to Australia to find bush poets to bring to the Gathering, George offered to take me Down Under on his plane. Just getting off the ground was an adventure but finally we got underway.

After a long day of flying over the Pacific Ocean as far as the eye could see, George told the pilots we would land at the Marshall Islands for a night of rest and refueling. We landed on the atoll island of Majuro, and the next morning, on our way back to the airfield from our hotel, we made a quick visit to the village museum. We got to talking with the woman at the desk who had lived on the Islands for many years and learned that she was originally from my hometown of Salt Lake City. She grew up in a neighborhood where I had gone to a yard sale just the day before. When I told her that, she looked at me point blank and asked, “Did you buy my cowboy piano?” Sure enough I had. I was stunned to think the world could be so small. I glanced at George to read his reaction but he didn’t even twitch one of his voluminous eyebrows. Later I asked him why he didn’t seem surprised. I realized in his answer that George was constantly running into people he knew all over the world. This coincidence didn’t seem out of the ordinary. George’s world was a small world. By the way, that cowboy piano that I purchased those many years ago has been donated to the Western Folklife Center and can be heard every year at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in the Pioneer Saloon under the great care of pianist Dave Bourne.

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This from Teresa: “For our honeymoon, George offered Hal and me his cabin on Stuart Island. He met us at Dutch Harbor to take us over to Stuart on his needle-nose yacht, the Lambada. It was the day of the Russian coup and the San Jose Sharks had just brought a player over. The player's family was still in Russia and George was terribly worried that they would not be able to get out. As we headed back to Stuart Island, George was talking on his satellite phone to Russia, but being George, he was also fishing, and he caught a big salmon. I remember him on the nose of the Lambada, trying to juggle the phone and the fish and the international conversation… Oh, there are so many more stories, and all of them, at their heart, revolve around his great spirit and generosity and concern for others. I just can't imagine the world without him.”

George was one of the most original people Teresa and I have ever met. We feel a great sense of loss at his passing. Our hearts go out to his family and our love to all those who loved George.

Please share your own stories and memories of George in the comment section of this blog.

Read George Gund’s obituary in the Elko Daily Free Press.

The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to one of several charities, including the Western Folklife Center. To facilitate such contributions we have established the George Gund III Memorial Fund. If you wish to make a memorial donation in George’s honor, please send it to: George Gund III Memorial Fund, Western Folklife Center, 501 Railroad Street, Elko, NV 89801, or call Linda Carter at 775 738-7508, ext. 222.

Stages don't manage themselves

Fifth year stage managing at the Gathering, evidently just long enough to start remembering names and faces, and putting them together in the right combinations. I rolled in on the train on Wednesday night, and wisely stopped at the Folklike Center Saloon before heading on to bed. The crowd was peppered with cowfolk who I knew, and it really did feel like a homecoming. Such high spirits at the Gathering, and not just from the spirits. I made my rounds through the crowd, but did pack myself off to bed at a pretty reasonable time. Sensible. The Gathering is a marathon, not a sprint, after all.

I won't recount all the to-ing and fro-ing from the first day - backstage might be interesting a lot of the time, but there's also a lot of sitting and waiting, going in search of a trash can or some tape, then checking the clock and sitting some more.

I had the pleasure to be backstage for Judy Blunt's keynote speech this morning. A super-simple gig for a stage manager - no set changes, no 'wrap it up' handwaving, no greater organizing to be looked after than just "you're next, you're up." But it was a distinct pleasure to get to hear what Judy had to say.

She hit on a familiar mournful tone of loss for some of the older ways of western livestock culture. But just at the moment that I was starting to wonder if the first Gatherings were as focused on the loss of the past, Judy tossed a hard turn into her address and reminded us how grateful a lot of folks have been for much of the progress of the last hundred years, and reminded us to look forward to how we can preserve the spirit & passion of this culture even amid all the changes. She staked her opinions deep and declared them clearly. Afterwards, she commented that she was afraid she'd be met by pitchforks and torches, but I heard many more comments like Paul Zarzyski's, that Judy's speech had made him cry into his mustache.

I had the middle of my day free, so I wandered doing a few regular Elko things. Picking up some boot polish, eating a so-so sandwich, pressing on further to a great cup of coffee, impulsively buying a mouth harp.

As the afternoon arrived, I headed to my rest-of-the-day gig, stage managing for Ramblin' Jack Elliott's dinner theater show over at the Great Basin College theater.

The tech crew were amazing, as always, and all the volunteers absolutely eager to help. Getting the musicians set up went perfectly, and everybody had what they needed by the scheduled end of the sound check. Perfect.

We got the place set up, the instruments all in place, the levels all set, and the band had time enough to go over a couple tricky spots, then we retreated back stage to wait for the diners to get fed, relocated and re-settled.

The show is amazing, I highly recommend it to anyone who can find the time and a ticket. Jack mostly stuck to the set list, best as he could. But the moment dictates the song it needs, and sometimes concessions must be made. I bet no one out front could even tell that two of those songs the musicians had never played with him before, though.

Much as I unreservedly endorse that show, though, I have to say, wandering in an out of Jack's backstage monologue was certainly captivating and as entertaining as the music was. I had plenty to keep an eye on all over the theater, but when Jack starts a story, it's mighty hard to walk away.

I heard bits and pieces about offending Peter Fonda, doing a screen test for Dennis Hopper, making a geisha cry by singing Bob Dylan, and I learned that a clew is the corner of a boat's sail. Maybe you knew that, but it was news to me. I hated to interrupt, but it's best if everybody gets to hear how much time there is before the show starts, so I did have to interrupt once in a while.

I have another full day of keeping the shows on the rails tomorrow, so I better not linger too late on the blog. One last thing, though - if you run in to Van Dyke Parks, I strongly recommend you try to get one of his business cards. You'll be glad for it.

I hope to get a few backstage pics in my wanderings around Elko events tomorrow & hope to get them up with my next post. It can be an eerie half-light world, and surprisingly solitary despite the impending audience interactions.

Have fun out there everybody! More soon! -Dan, stage manager

Same Planet Different Worlds

Thursday, 5:40 P.M. Elko, Nevada. Intern Andrew Church reporting for duty.

The walls of the press room are reverberating with Cajun music. Cowboy poets and Hungarians come and go at will. The aroma of meatballs and merlot wafts in the air. Unusual, for some. Not for Elko.

Those experienced in the ways of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering can be somewhat prepared for what's in store this week. The tenderfoots (tenderfeet?) will have the benefit of complete and unexpected immersion into the cowboy culture.

Me? I'm a veteran. My parent's have been forcing me to recite at the Gathering since I was seven. I've seen performers from most continents, excluding Antarctica (although I wouldn't be surprised if Meg somehow recruits talent from the subarctic). Yet in spite of these experiences, each year is always surpassed by the next, without fail.

The Gathering never ceases to amaze me with the talent it brings to Nevada, or its ability to unite cultures under one roof. What is more incredible are the ties these people have, despite living worlds away. Music, song, horsemanship, nature's boon, hard work. A livelihood based on an openness and freedom not found many places in this day and age. Here, language barriers are defeated with horsehair strings and accordion notes. We may only see these individuals once a year, maybe once a lifetime, but the connections and memories seldom fade.

What do I have planned? Make a few new friends and see a dozen old ones. Learn a few words in Hungarian and dance the zydeco. Partake in the overall camaraderie. In the meantime, I'm off to see Geno Delafose and the French Rockin' Boogie. Hope to see you there if you're not here already.

Ensign Church, signing out.

And We're Off!

Speaking of Geno Delafose and French Rockin' Boogie, I have a story about how everyone in Elko comes together to make these performances happen.  For those of you who don't remember, I'm Tamara, Gathering Manager.  That title is apt for what happened yesterday.

I got a call at 7:15 am on Wednesday morning.  This was early for me, especially since workshops and shows weren't starting until 9:00 am, but I dutifully answered the phone.  Geno was calling to arrange a ride to the airport.  He and the band got in on Tuesday, as planned, but their luggage stayed in Salt Lake City.  They were told to pick up the luggage Wednesday morning at the Elko airport.

I headed in to the Folklife Center, planning on driving the 15 person van to the airport.  Luckily, I ran into Carol Gamm and handed her the keys.  She took them over to the airport while I handled some other issues (our shuttle coordinator fell ill with a nasty bug that's going around, so I was filling in until we could get things straightened out, which we did by 9:00 am).  At 8:30 am I got another call from  Geno.  Their luggage did not make it onto the 8:00 am flight.  Their luggage, which included their instruments, was coming in at 11:30 am.

Geno Delafose and French Rockin' Boogie were scheduled to perform for the CowKids' Stampede at 10:00 am.

We couldn't disappoint 900 kids, of course.  So I got on the phone to find three instruments: bass guitar, single-note accordion, and frottoir, the washboard.  First I called Mike Polise, of Polise Music.  He had a piano accordion and bass guitar.  Easy.  Geno said he could play any kind of accordion, so we were set there.

So then I had to find a washboard.  Sure, Elko is a town that holds on to its past, but where was I going to find a washboard at 8:30 in the morning?

Luckily for me, Rori Holford, who helps with the exhibits, remembered seeing one at Cowboy Joe.  She called over there to see if we could borrow the washboard.  The women working at Cowboy Joe were gracious enough to lend us their antique washboard.

The look on Demetric Thomas's face was priceless when I walked in with a washboard.  Carol ran to get some spoons and Darryl Guillory (Geno's neighbor) found some rope.  A frottoir  was born!

Mike Polise dropped off the bass guitar and the accordion, and then ran back home to grab some drumsticks.  In the meanwhile, Geno had decided to play the keyboard, and Colin, the sound engineer, set it up on stage in less than seven minutes.

900 kids were treated to the show of the year, and the show even started on time!  Many thanks to Mike Polise and Cowboy Joe.

The 27th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is off to a great start!  Thanks for being here, and enjoy the show!

-Tamara

P.S. All the luggage came in on the 11:30 am flight.

Geno Delafose on the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Geno Saturday by Jessica Brandi Lifland

Geno Saturday by Jessica Brandi Lifland

Geno Delafose and his band French Rockin' Boogie, a cowboy zydeco band from southwest Louisiana, performed at the Gathering for the first time last year. Listen to what he had to say about his experience. [audio http://westernfolklifecenter.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/geno-delafose-on-the-ncpg.mp3]

Geno and the band are returning this year and will be playing the Saturday Night Dance, among other performances. We just can't wait to get out there on the dance floor! Dick and Sandy Sturm hosted zydeco and cajun dances at the Western Folklife Center all summer and part of the fall, so there are lots of Elkoans who are ready to shake their groove "thang."

It's the 27th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering!

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CPG2010 General Scenes
CPG2010 General Scenes

It's that time again... the Western Folklife Center is abuzz with activity. The kids programs are in full swing in the G Three Bar Theater and in the Pioneer Saloon, where the kids are donning their Wrangler bandanas and drinking sarsaparilla at the bar after a morning of leather tooling (imagine 30+ hammers pounding in unison), a musical performance by Merrily Wright, and a tour of the Hungarian exhibition. It's how we start every Gathering and seeing those school buses out in front of the building really puts us all in the spirit of the event. It is always amazing to me how this event comes together every year. Every staff member and volunteer has a job to do and everyone puts his or her nose to the grindstone and does whatever it takes to make this event a success. There are challenges and setbacks, victories and meltdowns, but by the time people start arriving in Elko, we will be ready for them—"Come hell or high water!" as my mama used to say.

Throughout this week and next, we will be posting to this blog and sharing our experiences with you. For those of you who are traveling to Elko, we wish you safe travels as we eagerly anticipate your arrival. For those who can't make it, we will miss you and we encourage you to read this blog, watch the Cybercast on our website, which starts on Wednesday night, and keep an eye out for new guerilla videos on our YouTube channel on Friday and/or Saturday. Every time we post to our blog, we'll give you a heads up on Facebook so you will know to come and take a look.

And away we go!

Posted by Darcy Minter, Communications Director, Western Folklife Center