national cowboy poetry gathering

Being Cowboy in a Digital World

As we all know times have changed and few things are as they were. Sometimes that’s good. Sometimes that’s bad. Mostly though, it’s just life.

Three young women talked about this on a discussion panel during the 30th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering last week, tackling the issue of Being Cowboy in a Digital World. One might think that the panelists, Jolyn Young, Jessica Hedges, and Jessie Veeder have their heads down over cell phones or Ipads most of the time, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

All three women have diverse yet similar backgrounds in ranching and how they use the internet. Jolyn is a 26 year old cowboy’s wife and mother of one who lives on a remote ranch on the edge of the Jarbridge Wilderness in Nevada. She writes for the Nevada Rancher and uses her blog and Facebook to keep up with friends and family. The internet also allows her to research and submit her stories in a way she would not have access to otherwise.

Jessica is a 25 year old cowboy’s wife and mother of two who lives on the ZX Ranch in Paisley, Oregon. She began using social media and blogging as a way to promote her cowboy poetry, but was also able to create an accessories line, The Buckarette Collection, that she markets via Facebook.  Jessica has found a better connection with her audience and customers because they have a relationship when they finally meet at a show or in her booth.

Jessie is 30 years old and owns a ranch with her husband on the edge of the Badlands in western North Dakota while traveling extensively as a singer/songwriter and speaker. She began blogging as a way to tell her personal story and it has blossomed into a photography passion and a way to promote her brand. Jessie also has a regular column in the Fargo Forum and uses the internet to contribute regularly to other publications.

Yes, these ladies discussed the opportunities technology and social media have given them as wives and mothers in ranching communities but also how things are just the same.  Jolyn recently posted in her blog, “there still is no app for doctoring calves or how to shape your hat.”

The Western Folklife Center is hoping to initiate things kinds of conversations and more in the gatherings to come. What topics would you like to see discussed?

By Jessica Hedges

Another Year, Another Reunion

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Sunday, February 3, 2013

As the gathering comes to an end and Elko steadies itself after a rambunctious week, we are reminded how special this event is. This year was particularly great as so many different pieces came together creating the family reunion that we look forward to the other 360 days. Its sad to say goodbye to friends (both new and old), but these relationships will blossom year after year as long as people take time to visit. Get home safe, and keep in touch.

Written by Mike Gamm

Gathering the Future

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Saturday, Thursday 2, 2013

Early this morning artists, annual Gathering goers, and new comers came together in a round table discussion focused upon the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering's future. The group focused specifically upon the growth and success that we would like to see over the next few years.

Without filling the page with meeting minutes, I have taken the liberty of selecting a few topics from array of subjects that came to light as voices were heard and ideas were shared. The following is a bit of a jumble, and in some ways so was the meeting, so take what you want from it and let the rest wash over.

How's the Artist Selection? There was a resounding belief that the selection of artists has been well thought out and chosen by the Western Folklife Center's staff. And in addition to having artists that are fun to watch, this selection of artists does not see the Gathering as a focus upon them, but instead a focus upon the people that make up Western folk culture. (They are here to see friends and meet new people just like the rest of us). Simply put, the Gathering retains its roots.

With that said...

Are we an event based upon inclusivity or exclusivity?  There was an emerging dichotomy regarding what audience the NCPG should be focusing upon; ranch families that make up much of the area West of the Mississippi or people from urban centers all over. The Gathering started in the late 70s and early 80s by bringing local ranch families together to share and enjoy art, music and poetry. Today, ranchers and other hard working people continue to set aside time in their lives to get off the ranch and head to Elko. The Gathering has experienced changes and lulls in attendance over the last few years that have caused enthusiasts to worry about its welfare (making this one of the most important topics to address).

Is this a Business or a Social Event?  There are so many more fun events and strange happenings that many visitors either aren't aware of, or don't know occur. On any given evening you'll stumble across jam sessions, late night dance parties and even personal heroes. These are the parts of Western folklife that many find important.  I for one, implore that each and every visitor sit down at a table filled with strangers or approach artists that you otherwise wouldn't, because this is exactly the right place to do it and we want to continue these traditions for years to come.


The Western Folklife Center is not in the best position to  support this event in the longterm without a good long look at how the business side of this event is related to its survival.  Of course, much of these questions will need to be answered by Western Folklife staff.

How do we bring new people in? Word of mouth and bringing a friend to visit the Gathering is simply not cutting it anymore, and the importance of getting the NCPG community involved in welfare and growth was a recurring theme. As well as keeping in mind that the local community and people whom work so hard getting this event going each year have a vested interest in the Gathering's continuing success. If you are one of those people traveling hours or even days to get here, you're a part of an effort to get the NCPG moving forward. Getting involved with other events and forums in your hometown may be the way to assure that the Gathering remains in Elko over the next 29 years.

There is a question about whether we should focus our efforts on social media (such as Facebook, Youtube or even this blog site).  Much of this boils down to what audience we would like to pull into Western folklife.  Sure, kids use these technologies but western folklife is all about focusing on arts by getting your hands dirty and meeting people.  Grass roots conversation is how all of this got started, perhaps there is a way to keep this part of the event in tact.

Is Our Focus Education or Entertainment? There is also a discrepancy with what age group we want to focus our efforts in developing the next generation of artist and visitors. Perhaps the "next generation" isn't what it seems (such as young children or teens) it could be college twenty somethings that are ripe for new experiences or single 30 somethings looking for something familiar. This is difficult to define, but is a critical question facing the Western Folklife Center and the people that love Elko.

In Conclusion. There is a fear that if we reach out too far, we will lose what makes the NCPG and Western Folklife special.  Artists are open minded and forward thinking when comes to understanding that the social environment we live in today (and Elko itself) are changing entities. Perhaps, this year's success will bring together an array of new ideas that will help expand our future.

The NCPG is a truly amazing place, a place to meet family that you never knew you had. People from all walks of life are able to come down to Elko, making it a great place to not just see artists perform their craft, but also take the time to create friendships that last a lifetime.

The Western Folklife Center wants to know what you have to say, please leave comments below. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

What is it that brings people to the NCPG year after year? Who is the target audience at the NCPG? How do we keep our community roots, while keeping a focus on entertainment/education?

Written by Mike Gamm

Something Else To Do: Rodeo Swing

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Saturday, Thursday 2, 2013

Today, dancers and would be dancers gathered in the High School gym to learn rodeo swing. The event began with an informative yet simple introduction by Craig Miller and Amy Mills that got people up and moving in no time. Some attendees may have been intimidated by the dancing prospect, but Craig instilled confidence by explaining that there is "no right way to do these steps."

A class like this allows smiles, laughs and mistakes that result in a bunch of great dancers. Craig gives the tools needed to move feet in the right direction, and allows you to fill in the rest. If you plan on attending one of these classes be sure to leave all your bashful baggage at home because its time to dance.

Written by Mike Gamm

Water in the West: A Round Table Discussion

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Saturday, February 2, 2013

Water can be a 'dry' subject but today's panelists enlightened the attendees through engaging conversation about watershed development. Each speaker explained that we as a society need to widen the lens as we search for solutions to changes that are fast approaching. Water is simply a big issue in the American desert and we have the ability to engineer successful change if we approach the problems and questions with open minds. We need to recognize that both agricultural water use and drinking water are important, but they develop and sustain different forms of societal growth. There was so much in this discussion that the speakers couldn't get to, but below is a summary of the ideas and information the panelists provided.

Jack Loeffler, "Thinking Like a Watershed" and "Headed Upstream" Jack gave a brief, but dense history about how modern water management has been formulated. Over 120 years ago John Powell rode across the American West creating a detailed map of the territorial watershed. Powell proposed that the watersheds should be the driving factor for defining state lines so that each area could derive their own self sustaining plan. However, once the watershed had been made public, entrepreneurs descended upon those watersheds with regulation and control. This money and land grabbing has led to a focus upon money making rather than a focus upon creating regard for the land that we live on. The Law of the River in which different states were afforded fixed amounts of water is controlling water growth today and is an important part of understanding where we have come from, and the limits of where we are going.

Lisa Hamilton, "Deeply Rooted" Lisa spoke about how water is being utilized effectively today, and how there are practices that aren't so well defined.  Instead of wondering why we put a million person city in the middle of the desert (like Las Vegas), we need to ask, what is important for our future and we have to ask how we will use low precipitation land effectively.  As a whole, we need to take into account the importance of regional effects, and create a relationship with water that represents where we want and need to be. "The West begins when annual rainfall falls below 20 inches," this quote rings true the fact that western states have a distinct climate that should and does directly reflect the way we utilize water.

Alexandra Davis To start, Lisa stated that 'We have enough water for the West,' but included that we need to develop a relationship with water that accurately reflects what is important when sustaining a thriving society. Most of the water comes in the winter as snow pack that will then fill rivers in the warmer months.  However,  this system of 'water storage' is quickly changing today.  Annual precipitation is changing from snow to rain, which will challenge our current water storing methods. The Prior Appropriation Doctrine solves many local issues but has difficulty tackling the regional water problems because it creates a winner/loser mentality.  Care for the environment and focused discussion about agricultural growth together is a key to creating a sustained system of water usage.

We are focused upon our personal economic sustainability far more than the landscape in which we live. It is important to avoid growing beyond the sustaining capabilities of the land.

Written by Mike Gamm Photos by Charlie Eckburg

Mary McCaslin

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Friday, February 1, 2013

Mary McCaslin has honed her style from folk's deepest roots. Even a short performance at the Flag View Stage didn't fail to take the audience back to some of songwriting's best years. Her influence on contemporary Western folk music is evident with songs that explain life's experiences through the looking glass. Her steady hands worked with the guitar effortlessly, and some could hardly wait to see her unique use of the banjo. Mary stays true to each song without flaunting her skills; allowing the audience to surrender to the music.

Written by Mike Gamm

Italian Buckaroos: Old World and New World

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Friday, February 1, 2013

The international side of this event is so vital to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering coordinators because ranch hands and bronco breakers from around the world have been so important to the culture that the American West has today. Charlie Seemann explains that horse people are horse people, and we are all able to come together in Elko and share stories that cross borders and time. All of this helps create relationships that will last a lifetime. Sharing stories of the corral and landscape reminds us that people working cattle and horses from around the world are not so different than those in the American West.


Today was a great showcase as the Italian duo Gianluca Zammarelli and Marco Rufo played casually before a happy audience. People enjoyed food, wine, and great company as Gianluca and Marco played songs from home.  In addition, Gianluca took time to teach the audience about their musical style and instruments.  The anatomy of the bagpipe is much like that of a family, a group of parts put together to make amazing sounds and feelings, and there is a cross hidden within the facets of the pipes to keep the devil away.

There is much to be learned about the butteri down at the Folklife Center exhibit. Here's just a few things:

Today Italian tradition lives on in America spurred by Italian immigration West over 150 years ago. In fact, many of the cowboys and ranchers today have roots in Italy.

Blue jeans were invented in Genoa, Italy to give a strong pair of pants to sailors. It wasn't until Levi patented the pocket's copper rivet that the blue jean became marketed and popular in the American West.

Buffalo Bill and his troupe visited Italy eight times, and was once issued a challenge as to who may be the better bronc rider: the American cowboy or the Italian butteri.  Although the results of this challenge may vary between America and Italy today, there remains a legend that a butteri by the name of Agusto Imperiali conquered the American horse.

Written by Mike Gamm

Photos by Charlie Eckburg

Tuneful Troublemakers

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Friday, February 1, 2013


Glenn Ohrlin has certainly been at this for many years, and as he stepped onto the stage a 12- year old Brigid Reedy followed closely. The theatrical arguments between the pair and the passing of folk tradition was magical to watch. 75 years between them certainly didn't let on as they played great music today, and it is great knowing that the next 30 years of cowboy poetry and music will be carried on by talented young performers like Brigid.


First time National Cowboy Poetry Gathering visitor, Ed Peekeekoot took the auditorium today after a standing ovation finish at the Flag View Stage yesterday. And like an old friend to the Gathering, Ed talks smooth and shows massive amounts of confidence and class. His stories about growing up on a reservation listening to friends play popular rock and roll chords is a great dimension of growing up. During those years he found his own music with influence form Chet Atkins and Merle Travis, all leading to an amazing ability to layer chords into musical melody. Ed is a fresh and fantastic way to fall in love with Western folk traditions. With the help of his wife, Gail, Ed provides a good time for everyone in attendance and comes across as the kind of person that you could stand up and party with.

Ed is fast making the list of favorite artist this year and certainly one that you shouldn't miss out on.

Written by Mike Gamm

Photos by Charlie Eckburg

Roughstock Cocktail

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Thursday, January 31, 2013

Paul Zarzyski and Wally McRae by Jessica Brandi Lifland_sm
Paul Zarzyski and Wally McRae by Jessica Brandi Lifland_sm

Last night the Roughstock Cocktail proved to be a great mix of music, poetry, and comments regarding Paul's sagging derriere. The show's name did not fail to provide as the amazing cast mixed equal parts of flavor and zest with music and story.

The performance opened to an audience nearly bursting at the seams, and a rousing introduction to LSD by Paul Zarzyski got the crowd's energy pumping. The stage was not short on talent as Cowboy Celtic lulled the audience with sweet melodies, and Paul Zarzyski and Wallace McRae provided all the in- between with word and poem. Even the silent duo, Nathan and Joe, impressed the audience using their instruments to create strong stage presence. Quips and jokes by the rest of the group kept cheers and laughter pouring. Simply put, it was a great time watching this motley crew up on stage doing what they love. Giving way to good old fashion fun.

After the show an impromptu musical bash between Cowboy Celtic and the Italian duo Marco Rufo and Gianluca Zammarelli broke out in the G Three Bar Theater. And with a bit of trial and error at the beginning, the bands soon melded together keeping the those in the Pioneer Saloon entertained for hours. If you hang out at the Folklife Center long enough you're sure to see the Italian musicians walking about playing bagpipes and accordion. It's quite fun to see Marco and Gianluca banter back and forth about rhythm and song choice, even if you don't understand Italian.

Written by Mike Gamm

Photo Courtesy Western Folklife Center

Young Guns

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Thursday, January 31, 2013


Last night's "young" guns came to the G Three Bar Stage with guns blazing, each entertaining the crowd with sharp lyrics and an array of stories. Andy Hedges and Brenn Hill had the crowd moved with poetry and song, each weaving life and music together seamlessly.


Its great to have performers step onto the stage and immediately captivate the audience with smiles and fun. If you were looking to find spunk and heaps of heart on a National Cowboy Poetry Gathering stage then you had better seek out another show with Adrian. She certainly brought the lady fire last night and let us know that buckerettes are a tough group of gals.

Written by Mike Gamm

Photos by Charlie Eckburg

Cowboy Philosophy

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Thursday, January 31, 2013

In this session, Jess Howard and Georgie Sicking shared their stories about the simpler parts of the western lifestyle, while Keith Ward intrigued us with what it meant to be a cowboy as we grew up watching great American heroes. Together, they remind us that being a cowboy is not all work and strife; that it's made up of plenty of laughs and fun. Most of all, they reveal that each day is special as long as we strive to be our own cowboy.

Kristyn Harris and the Quebe Sisters Band

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
January 31, 2013


Kristyn Harris wowed performance-goers in the open mic music sessions at last year's Gathering, and as a result, she came back this year with a variety of fun songs.  She's a talented singer/songwriter with plenty of extra skills in her tool box.  Her smooth talk and yodeling kept the room engaged, and once again Kristyn didn't fail to impress the audience, proving that fresh talent is always welcome at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Wow this girl can yodel!

Yodeling Fever with 18-year-old Kristyn Harris. 

Click here for a video.

The Quebe Sisters Band took the stage once again this afternoon, showing what it means to be a powerhouse trio.  It will get you all warm and fuzzy inside hearing these girls singing and playing.  Everyone on stage is a champion of their craft, and they'll show what it means to be the best.

A Changing West

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
January 31, 2013


Today's session "A Changing West" presented great stories and songs by John Dofflemyer, Henry Real Bird and Gail Steiger. Each painting beautiful pictures of the West. Although lament for the western way may have been the topic, these poets painted pictures not just about the changing West, but also how the West is still out there for all of us to explore. John Dofflemyer revealed that poetry can describe so much more than a something we see. Gail Steiger asked us to take a look at the West that remains as we visit Elko, and Henry Real Bird reminded us that the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is a place to explore some of these lost (but needed to be rediscovered) places and traditions. By the end, they showed us that the West can be found in the poetry that it keeps it in our hands and in our hearts, proposing that the changing West is only the whitening of our hair.

Written by Mike Gamm

Photo by Jessica Lifland

Beautiful Day in Elko

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Thursday, January 31, 2013

The rousing performances by the Quebe Sisters Band and Max Baca & Los Texmaniacs may have kept people up late last night, but as the city awoke in shuffles, smiles could be seen as the Gathering moved into full swing today. This morning appears to be another beautiful day in Elko, Nevada, as blue skies push the white away.


The Quebe Sisters Band have stopped in Elko before flying off to Zurich, Switzerland. From the beginning of last night's performance the Quebe Sisters were all smiles and talent. They did no less than allow our hearts and minds to fly away as quick hands and sweet voices lulled our senses. The balance between vocal power and fiddle rhythm kept feet moving.


When Max Baca & Los Texmaniacs stepped out from the curtain it was clear that the party was starting. The energy within the group showed a strong love with stage and audience, and simply stated they we're a fun group of guys. Their music leaves us wondering if it's always a good time in Texas.

Each of these groups will be performing over the next few days, so don't miss your chance to see them.

Written by Mike Gamm

Photo by Jessica Lifland

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.


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.

Words of Wisdom

As the manager of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, it is rare that I get a chance to have extended conversations with any of the poets or musicians during the Gathering.  I am always getting called away to put out one fire or another.  Today I got lucky and had a chance to sit with Vess Quinlan for a while. Vess was talking with Keith Ward, a poet from North Carolina who participates in the Gathering's open mic sessions.  Keith is still somewhat new to the world of cowboy poetry, and he's eager to learn from an "old hand" like Vess.   Keith and I listened attentively to Vess as he described his writing process and what he's observed from other, more academic poets.  Vess talked about learning to move his rhymes into the body of the poem, rather than leaving them all at the end, and how the meaning of the poem is more important than forcing a rhyme.  He talked about how some poets (not cowboy poets) are forced into a certain form or style because of the institutions they work in or the positions they want to hold.

Keith told Vess that since he's started coming to the Gathering and sharing his work, he has been trying to figure out the rules himself.  Vess told him that the beauty of cowboy poetry, and the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in particular, is that the poets are allowed to take risks.  Each and every poet who performs at the Gathering supports every other poet.  They don't compete with one another, and that's why Elko is good.  If Jerry Brooks (who joined the conversation at this point) does a poem that has a sad mood, then Vess will adapt his plan to do a poem that brings the  mood back up.  If Vess does a long poem, then Jerry will do a short poem.  Vess says that is what sets cowboy poetry apart: there are no rules and everyone supports one another.

Vess also mentioned the audience, and Jerry agreed that the audience in Elko is sophisticated.  They allow those risks and make it possible for the poets to break the barriers between the performers on stage and the audience.

I can't wait for the sessions to start on Thursday.  Sure, now is the chance when I can sit for a minute and listen to some great stories, or even spend most of an evening performance in my seat, but I love the end of the week best.  Vess Quinlan and Jerry Brooks are performing each day on Thursday, Friday and Saturday; check the schedule for times and locations.  Also, take a moment to listen to the open mic sessions in the Cedar Room.  You might get to hear what Keith Ward learned today.


Mining the Mother Lode

Andy Hedges
Andy Hedges

There are moments at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering that one never forgets. I had such a moment last night.

I was backstage in the Convention Center Auditorium in the show called "This is My Home," featuring Waddie Mitchell, Andy Hedges and Andy Wilkinson, and Corb Lund & The Hurtin' Albertans. Waddie had finished his set and Andy and Andy had played a few songs when Andy Wilkinson left the stage so the younger Andy could recite a poem. I listened, wholly transfixed, as Andy recited "Mining the Mother Lode," a poem written by Andy Wilkinson lamenting the degradation of the aquifer in the Llano Estacado in the southern panhandle of Texas.

Reminiscent of arguably the most important cowboy poem ever written—"Anthem," by the late Texas poet Buck Ramsey—"Mining the Mother Lode" is a plea to anyone who will listen to protect the mother-lode aquifer. It is a poem of anger and loss, with an urgent message for us to pay attention while we still have a chance to save the aquifer and its life-giving water. Andy Hedges' recitation is beautiful and heartfelt. Here's the last stanza:

"What will we do with this gift of the mother-lode? Pray that the poets and the dreamers remember it, pray that the guardians hold it in stewardship, pray that we honor it, pray that we husband it, pray for the tribe of the mother-lode aquifer, pray for the water, the sweet Ogallala lake, nourishing all who tread lightly and carefully, lightly and carefully, lightly and carefully."

Andy and Andy tell me that they have recorded the poem on their next album, which comes out in a couple of months. You simply MUST listen to this poem. Bring some tissue. Stay tuned.

Darcy Minter

Flat Stanley Becomes a Cowboy Poet

Flat Stanley came in the mail the other week.  See, he was flattened by a bulletin board and now goes on adventures.  He's visiting Nevada to learn about cowboys and cowboy poetry.  Flat Stanley has gone on quite a few adventures while in Elko. He drove an old ranch truck.

He pitched some hay.

He sat in a saddle.

He learned to carve leather.

He met a cowboy poet.

He recited some poetry.

He met a few musicians (Glenn Ohrlin and Adrian).

He played music with Dave Bourne.

And he finished his night with some sarsaparilla (that's Rooster Morris, who made Stanley his hat).

He'll be headed back to Michigan next week, exhausted like the rest of us, and with lots of stories to tell his Kindergartner friends about becoming a cowboy poet.

He also made a flat horse friend, Pancake, but I didn't get any pictures of them together yet.  Check back in the next few days for the story of Pancake the Paint.

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.