10 things that you must do at the Gathering

1. Go to a show at the Elko Convention Center Auditorium. The convention center has been a key component to the NCPG and its success. The auditorium is a perfect setting for enjoying your favorite artists. Beautiful lighting, great sound and a fun atmosphere make the convention center a must for all visitors to Elko.

Ed and Gail Peekeekoot

Ed and Gail Peekeekoot

2. Take a walk through the Wiegand Gallery. Each year the gallery showcases horsemen, ranchers, artists, musicians, crafters and historians from another part of the world. This year, Baja vaqueros from a little-known corner of Mexico, Baja California Sur have come to Elko. Expand your understanding of foreign horsemanship, ranching and music by visiting the gallery or catching a vaquero show.

The Wiegand Gallery (taken from the Pioneer Saloon)

The Wiegand Gallery (taken from the Pioneer Saloon)

3. Visit a museum. Check out the Northeastern Nevada Museum and California Trail Center to learn more about the West through the stories and history that made Western life and tradition a reality.

4. Eat at the Star. Great food, huge portions, strong drinks and everyone is family. Enough said. Just remember that 3 Picons will be plenty.

5. Sit in on a youth poetry reading. Watching the next generation of cowboys (and cowgirls) develop their skills and talent as poets, writers and musicians can be as inspiring as watching the longtime veterans. It also means so much to them to have your support and encouragement. If you love the NCPG and want to see the event continue through the years, then take some time to see one of these performances.

6. Go to a Deep West video screening. Deep West videos are an important part of how we bring the hidden cultures of rural areas to the forefront of conversation. This year's videos are a look into the Owyhee Reservation through the eyes and storytelling vision of its children. Deep West videos are an inspiring view of native culture, western culture and current events happening here in Nevada and across the West. Don't miss an opportunity to see these films and expand your knowledge.

7. Find your favorite artist at the Pioneer Saloon. Many of you know that the Pioneer is the place to grab a strong drink and relax between shows. It turns out that the Pioneer is also the place where the artists go to get a strong drink and relax between shows. This provides an opportunity for you to thank your favorite performers at a personal level. Rarely can you approach your favorite performers at such an enormous event, so if you see an artist that you enjoy don't be afraid to introduce yourself and thank them for their performance, we are all here to have fun.

8. Find an "after hours" party and jam session. You typically need to know someone to find the late night party, but in Elko jam sessions and parties pop up all over. Just keep your ears open and your eyes peeled. Hint: The Pioneer is a great place to find these unofficial events, don't be afraid to put yourself out there and meet new people. You never know where that might take you.

jam session
jam session

9. Go to a dance. With most of the great western musicians scouring the streets of Elko this week there will plenty of opportunities to shake your hips and move your feet. So don’t pass it up. Hone your skills at one of the dance classes taking place throughout the week, and show off your moves at one of the dances taking place Friday and Saturday night.

10. Write about your experience and share it with the Western Folklife Center. This event relies on the care and support of the community. Your input could help sustain and grow Western Folklife for years to come. The NCPG's new director, David Roche, welcomes you to send emails and write letters that describe what you enjoy, what you want more of, and what aspects of the event that could use a touch up.

A Must See: Cowboy Celtic


This is Cowboy Celtic's 20th year at the Poetry Gathering, and they have always been one of my favorites. Elko's intimate venues are a great way to enjoy their beautiful melodies and unique instrumental features. If you are in Elko this week, Cowboy Celtic is a must see. You will have a great time hearing a plethora of influences that came to shape #westernfolklife.

Written by Mike Gamm

2015 Keynote Speaker: Gary Nabhan

Gary Nabhan is an ethnobotanist and a proponent of the collaborative conservation movement. Through a reflection upon the past 20 years, Nabhan seeks to further develop an open dialogue between the various cultures, generations and organizations that represent American agriculture. Collectively, ranchers and range scientists have made enormous contributions to current and future generations by restoring natural processes and understanding how to maintain successful ranching practices. However, the movement is not without its ups and downs, and we must all do our part to make collective conservation a sustainable reality.

To learn more about collaborative conservation or join in on the conversation join Nabhan tonight at the Great Basin College High Tech Center, Room 121 at 5:30pm.

The 31st National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Good morning poets, artists and revelers! Welcome to the 31st annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in beautiful Elko, Nevada! People from across the country and around the world have come here to share Western culture and tradition. From the Vaqueros of Baja California Sur to the best minds of American cowboy poetry, 2015 is poised to be a brilliant experience for both new comers and longtime veterans. Having people share stories and culture outside of the events is just as important as sitting in the jam packed auditorium of the convention center. So please visit with someone new at every opportunity, and help make The Gathering a powerful source for expanding our minds and our love for the West. We are all family this week so have fun! You're in Elko!

Written by Mike Gamm

Healing the Warrior's Heart: The Magic of Plan B, Part 2

Submitted by Taki Telonidis As I explained in last week's blog post, we experienced a lot of snafus while filming Healing the Warrior's Heart. Yet, almost every snafu was counterbalanced with an unexpected positive development.

Medicine Man Leo Pard

My second example involves the Medicine Man who’d been working with Martin Connelly, the returning veteran we follow in our show. After interviewing Martin during the July shoot, I stayed in touch with him over the coming months. Every two or three weeks I’d give him a call, and often speak with his mother as well. We built a relationship, and in early fall I asked if we could visit him again and he agreed. Since returning from deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, Martin had been working with an elder named Leo Pard who conducts sweat lodge ceremonies for returning veterans on the reservation. I was interested in interviewing Leo and perhaps filming him working with Martin. Martin was willing to do this for us, but his permission wasn’t enough; we also needed the okay from the Medicine Man.

Martin gave me Leo’s phone number up in Canada and I called him one afternoon. Leo was pleasant and polite, and I could tell he had a sense of humor…but he would not talk about his ceremonial work with veterans over the telephone. I remember him saying something like, “I’m old fashioned, and our ceremonies are not something I can discuss over the telephone with someone I don’t know. I need to meet you in person, look into your eyes, and feel what’s in your heart.” I explained that I lived more than 800 miles away, and that it wouldn’t be possible for me to make an extra trip up to Canada just to discuss the possibility of interviewing him. He insisted that those were the conditions, however; and I ended up scheduling our second trip to the reservation not knowing if he’d even agree to an interview.

Blog 2_Photo 2_Pre sweat prayer

In early November, I drove up to the reservation two days before our Director of Photography Doug Monroe was due to fly in. This was so I could pay my visit to Leo up in Canada and hopefully close the deal. On the day after my arrival, Martin and I drove several hours to one of the most remote locations I’d ever seen, and I’ve been to some pretty isolated places. Our visit with Leo and his wife lasted three hours, and in the end he agreed to allow us to attend the upcoming ceremony he was going to do with Martin, as long as we followed his rules about what we could and could not shoot. Basically, we could record the preparation for the ceremony, but once he and Martin entered the lodge, we had to turn the camera off. We were set…

…until a freak storm that dropped 18 inches of snow forced Leo to postpone his trip by a day. Thankfully, the next day arrived and it was perfect, and true to his word Leo came down from Canada and met us at Martin’s house. We all got goose bumps when we realized the date was November 11th…Veterans Day. The heavy snow had inundated the lodge, and there was quite a bit of work to do to prepare the structure. Martin was behind schedule, so at first, there was a fair amount of tension in the air as Doug recorded the preparations, and he and I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible. As we got closer to the ceremony, though, Leo and Martin loosened up and we were able to collect great footage, and also do an interview with Leo next to the lodge. When it came time for the ceremony, Leo allowed Doug to record a prayer he says before entering the lodge, and then the plan was for Doug to leave the immediate area and collect some landscape shots. I was asked to join Leo, Martin, and Martin’s uncle Humphrey inside the lodge for the sweat. So Doug left, and I entered the lodge and sat between Martin and Leo. I soon realized that Leo was gazing at me intently, and I began to feel quite uncomfortable. Our eyes met, and after a few moments, Leo’s stare turned into a smile. “So, Geronimo (he could never remember my name), where’s your cameraman?” I explained that I’d sent him away as per our agreement. “Well,” said Leo, “there’s a few things I’d like to say before the ceremony actually starts, and he is welcome to enter the lodge and record them.” Given the sensitivity that normally accompanies Native ceremonies, such an invitation is extremely rare, if not unheard of.

Leo Pard in the Sweat Lodge

It was an unexpected gift that I could never have imagined, even as a Plan A.

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


Trail’s End Ranch Radio Show

By Robin Wignall NCPG14 Trail's End Ranch Radio by Gib Meyers

The Trail’s End Ranch Radio Show is produced in the style of Prairie Home Companion and other radio shows of the old-style ilk. It is approachable for folks who are new to the cowboy poetry scene but has enough tooth to keep the veteran attendee interested as well. The show is highly entertaining to watch. I experienced the gambit of emotions—from laughing, to stomping my feet along to a great tune, to tearing up in sadness. It is worth the price of a ticket! And, there are still tickets available for the Friday 8:30 “airing” of the show at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, according to my inside source.

Written by singer-songwriter Stephanie Davis, the Trail’s End Ranch Radio Show features several vignettes, recitations from various famous cowboy poets, humorous faux ads and music played by the Trail’s End Ranch Hand Band. Fred Newman of Prairie Home Companion fame features prominently in the show. His table of sound-effects “instruments” includes a balloon to make alien sounds, glasses, beer bottles, a box of what sounded like aluminum recycling, a pair of old shoes and a roasting pan. I found myself wondering how he gets through TSA at the airport!

Poets DW Groethe, Henry Real Bird and Jerry Brooks are featured in the show. Groethe and Brooks even play characters in some of the skits. Groethe plays an alien with the assistance of a coffee can (you have to see it to believe it—its quite cool). Brooks plays a chuck-wagon gourmet well-versed in the preparation of roadkill. While Real Bird doesn't participate in any of the skits. he recites several of his poems, interlaced with his native Crow Indian language.

The opening act is a paean to bailing twine. As any ranch kid knows, bailing twine holds the world together, and according to the show's song, “is more useful than a ginzu knife at a Donner Party reunion.” Among other uses noted in the song are a leash for your pet lizard and a belt to hold your pants up. No matter what the problem, “the solution may be sitting on the dash of your truck…always carry bailing twine.”

There are multiple ads for made-up companies including Levitation Coffee for when you need to cowboy up, Western Brew Sarsaparilla with its natural mood enhancing agents, and a shady realty company that could take your ranch from cows to condos in 90 days or less.

Not all of the recitations are light-hearted. Brooks and Real Bird both recite  poems that are emotionally and intellectually stimulating. All three of the poems are about love, but not in that sickening romantic comedy way. I think Henry Real Bird said it best: “love is there like a robin in the winter sky.”

The show is sponsored by the Interculture Foundation. Tickets available at westernfolklife.org.

Dame Nevada

"There's a basin, wrought of reason,tortoise dry and clean of air Where rivers hike to meet their fate, get lost and disappear Where Grand Adventure had a say and different would prevail And where only hardy life hangs on to all that it entails"

This is the first stanza of Waddie Mitchell's new poem, "Dame Nevada," written in honor of the state's 150th anniversary being celebrated this year. Waddie debuted the poem tonight at the opening show of the 30th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, an official event of the sesquicentennial celebration.

The performance was opened by Nevada's Lt. Governor Brian Krolicki, and featured Waddie with other Nevada artists, including songster Richard Elloyan, writer Carolyn Dufurrena, poet Walt "Bimbo" Cheney, and Larry Schutte singing the classic "Nighttime in Nevada."

What a great start to what will most certainly be a wonderful 30th Gathering. We hope to post much more during the event, here and on Facebook (www.facebook.com/westernfolklife) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/westernfolklife). Come join us if you can!

Dame Nevada by Waddie Mitchell_sm

A Lesson in Healing a Soldier's Heart

First Nation title 1 from 38
First Nation title 1 from 38

This is the third installment in a series of blog posts about the making of Healing the Warrior’s Heart, a public television special that presents a Native American perspective on the soldier’s experience, and explores the spiritual traditions that help returning American Indian soldiers cleanse themselves of war.Gary Robinson is Partnering Producer for the project, and has been collaborating with Taki since early this year. Gary is a Native American author and filmmaker who has worked with tribal communities for more than 25 years to tell the stories of Native peoples in print and television. As part of the production of Healing the Warrior’s Heart, he traveled to Joshua Tree, California, to videotape portions of a Soldier’s Heart training session for therapists and pastors.  The Soldier’s Heart non-profit organization was created by Dr. Edward Tick and therapist Kate Dalstadt as a means of disseminating their work and helping to heal war trauma suffered by many veterans and their families.

“As an American Indian writer and filmmaker, I’ve been working with tribal communities for many years to shine a light on the struggles, accomplishments and cultural truths of American Indian peoples. Some of my recent work has focused on the history of American Indian service in the U.S. military and provided a means of sharing the incredible achievements of Native soldiers and their cultures.

Although I’ve participated in tribal ceremonies and veteran recognition activities on reservations across the country for years, I was not prepared for the profound teachings shared by Ed and Kate in this training session. I was only present for one day of the four-day training, but experienced an exhilarating sense of eye-opening hope in that circle of non-Native people.

Drawing on the discoveries of Joseph Campbell and the cultural teachings of traditional Native American warrior leaders such as Sitting Bull, Soldier’s Heart has mapped out a valid model that successfully heals war trauma (known to most as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD) and gives the military veteran the tools for productive reintegration into society. Dr. Tick and his colleagues realized long ago that for a “warrior’s return” to be successful, the veteran’s family and community must be brought into the process. They’ve identified the elements missing from American society that prevent our nation from being able to truly help and heal our emotionally and mentally wounded warriors.

One exercise conducted during the weekend training called for non-veteran participants to imagine themselves being deployed to Afghanistan with three of their closest loved-ones (friends or family). This parallels what soldiers experience as they bond with their band of brothers (or sisters) as they go through training and head off to war. Then, as the exercise continued, they were to imagine watching each of those people killed in action before their very eyes. In the final step, these workshop participants were then shipped back home without any opportunity for emotional cleansing after those devastating losses. Once home, they’re expected to “get over it” and “move on” with their lives. Such is the condition of every person who has experienced combat. This was but one of the many first-hand lessons taught through the Soldier’s Heart training to help future counselors learn to better serve the needs of veterans suffering from post-war trauma.

Part of what excites me about the Healing the Warrior’s Heart project is its potential for transforming America’s understanding of our responsibilities to our veterans and our indebtedness to the very tribal cultures we once attempted to exterminate. But most of all, I am proud to be associated with this project for its potential for putting effective healing tools in the hands of more counselors, therapists, pastors and chaplains who work to heal our veterans’ wounded hearts.”  Gary Robinson

Healing the Warrior's Heart: Turning Ancient Ceremonies Into Cutting Edge Therapy

First Nation title 1 from 38
First Nation title 1 from 38

This is the second installment in a series of blog posts about the making of  Healing the Warrior’s Heart, a public television special that presents a Native American perspective on both the soldier’s and the veteran’s experience. The program reveals the central role that military service plays in Native life and explores the spiritual traditions that help returning American Indian soldiers reintegrate into society and cleanse themselves of war. Western Folklife Center Media Producer, Taki Telonidis, is heading up the production team and blogging about his experiences."This was the view from my window seat as I headed back to Utah from Massachusetts after collecting the latest piece of the Healing the Warrior’s Heart story: an interview with a psychotherapist and author named Ed Tick.  More than a pretty sunset, it seemed a fitting coda for a conversation that dealt with spirituality and the soul."

"I had decided to fly out and meet Dr. Tick after learning of his unique approach to treating veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and reading his book War and the Soul. Tick’s methods rely heavily on the healing traditions of Native Americans and other tribal peoples, which he has studied extensively over more than 30 years. His work with veterans began not long after the Vietnam War when he was a young therapist and a veteran walked into his office seeking treatment. When their eyes met, they did a double-take as they realized they’d been classmates in high school. But Tick’s friend was almost unrecognizable; his experiences serving in Vietnam had transformed him both physically and emotionally."


"Doing therapy with his former classmate connected Tick with the community of Vietnam veterans in his corner of upstate New York. Many of them were suffering, and the Veteran's Administration (VA) system and other therapists didn’t know what to do with them. Tick told me the story of how the head of this group was so desperate for someone to help his comrades, that he “drafted” Tick to be their doctor. Tick came to see helping vets as a calling, although it wasn’t long before he realized that his training had not adequately prepared him for the task at hand. The diagnosis of PTSD (which at that time had recently been coined) didn’t adequately explain the suffering of these veterans. And the treatment protocols addressed only the symptoms, not the problem at its core."

"So Tick decided to look at how other cultures defined and treated the trauma of war. His quest took him first to Greece (homeland of my family!) where he studied the ancient wars, learned about citizen soldiers, and found references to war trauma and healing in classical writings. His quest then led him back to America and to an examination of the healing traditions of our nation’s first warriors: Native Americans. He discovered that for thousands of years, American Indians, like tribal peoples around the world, have been dealing with the problem we now call PTSD, but in a very different way. Suffering warriors were people whose soul and spirit had been tainted by what they had done and witnessed; so they were cleansed and purified through rituals. There were other ceremonies intended to transfer the responsibility of a warrior’s actions to the entire community, relieving him of the burden of his deeds. Another step was the honoring of veterans by the community, an important rite of passage that put them on a life-long path of service to their people."

"Learning about the healing traditions of Native peoples convinced Dr. Tick that they hold clues for America as it struggles to better assist its suffering veterans. In fact, Tick and his wife and partner Kate Dahlstedt have incorporated much of what they learned into retreats they conduct for veterans through their nonprofit organization, Soldiers Heart. Their work has caught the attention of the military, which last year hired them to conduct trainings for chaplains that incorporate the lessons of Native American healing."


"Dr. Tick’s work has become important to the Healing the Warrior’s Heart project. His book War and the Soul deconstructs how tribal cultures define war and the emotional trauma it inflicts on soldiers. It also discusses Native American healing traditions at length, and identifies their key elements and how they contribute to healing at the core level. Tick’s forthcoming book, Warrior’s Return, maps out how those elements can be applied in a non-native context, and used by chaplains and other professionals in treating veterans who served in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

"The interview with Tick was a powerful experience, as the information and passion poured out of him; it was a lot like drinking out of a fire hose. Now the challenge will be to absorb it all, and figure out how best to use it in the documentary."      Taki Telonidis

Healing the Warrior’s Heart: On the Road in Montana

First Nation title 1 from 38
First Nation title 1 from 38

The Western Folklife Center’s Media Producer Taki Telonidis and his production team recently returned from a 2-week shoot on the Blackfeet reservation in northern Montana for the documentary Healing the Warrior’s Heart, a public television special that presents a Native American perspective on both the soldier’s and the veteran’s experience. The program reveals the central role that military service plays in Native life and explores the spiritual traditions that help returning American Indian soldiers reintegrate into society and cleanse themselves of war. In addition to Taki, the production team includes partnering producer Gary Robinson, videographer Doug Monroe and sound engineer Paul Maritsas. This is Taki's first blog entry about his experience shooting the film.

"The film shoot on the Blackfeet reservation was an intense experience, and one that served as a reminder of the poverty and tremendous need that exist among Native populations, as well as the power and hope that reside within traditions and spirituality. The Blackfeet Nation is a place where warrior identity is very much alive in our time, even though many current soldiers have lost the connection with the healing traditions practiced by their ancestors. Yet there are others for whom those traditions remain relevant both during their deployment and as they re-enter society.


"We spent a couple of days with one young man named Martin Connelly who recently returned from Afghanistan, was suffering acute symptoms of PTSD, and is now finding relief through ritual and spirituality. It seems that warrior ceremonies at Blackfeet were largely ignored as recently as 15 years ago, but are now re-emerging as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the need to help soldiers who are having a difficult time when they come home.

"We attended a sweat lodge for two returning veterans (one of whom was Martin), and witnessed an honoring ceremony for them in which an elder veteran/spiritual leader presented them with an eagle feather and warrior name, an important rite of passage for combat veterans.

"We also conducted interviews with two directors at the Veterans’ Administration who’ve been instrumental in establishing Native Healing ceremonies at several VA centers including here in Salt Lake City. They expressed frustration with how slowly the VA system has incorporated Native healing into its programs, and also told us that they’ve documented a decrease in the use of medication by both Native and non-native vets who take part in sweat lodges and other Native ceremonies.

"We did an interview with the head of the Crazy Dog society, who are the keepers of Blackfeet spirituality, and who include many veterans in their ranks. We were able to record some of the preparations for their annual Sundance or Okan.


"In strategizing about what visuals could best accompany a section that discusses how the healing traditions of today are carried over from warrior history and ceremony that reach back hundreds of years, we decided to do a warrior reenactment with young riders from one of the local ranches on the Blackfeet reservation. After rain forced us to postpone the reenactment twice, the weather cooperated on the third day and we were able to shoot a very nice sequence of warriors going off and returning from war. Incidentally, this reenactment was organized by a veteran of Desert Storm and the 2nd Iraq war who was given the title of War Chief after his return home.


"We came home from our trip with more than a dozen interviews, and well over 1,000 video clips which we are now labeling and organizing. Right now the thought of boiling down this mountain of video into a coherent story seems daunting, but most big projects feel that way in the early stages of editing."

Healing the Warrior’s Heart is a production of the Western Folklife Center in collaboration with Tribal Eye Productions and KUED Channel 7, Salt Lake City’s PBS affiliate. The program will premiere in 2014. You can support this project with a stakeholder donation to Western Folklife Center Media Programs.


Cowboys and Accordions in the Rear View Mirror

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

Cowboy Poetry is over but the friendships continue. On a balmy Monday morning, it's a bittersweet trip to the airport to send offmy sweetie Chuck back to New Zealand for several months. The parting is sweetened by an impromptu accordion serenade and mini-reunion in the airport lounge with Italian musicians Marco and Gianluca, chef Valerio, and Cowboy Celtic's Keri and Nathan.  Chuck and I dance a waltz and a schottische, seeing the beaming faces of our new friends as we whirl past. As everyone heads to the plane, my mood lightens a little to see Valerio grinning ear to ear back at me.  A few minutes later, still wrapped in theafterglow of the Gathering and melancholy of parting, I bask in the sun while listening to Hot Club of Cowtown and watching the aircraft take to the sky.

For those of you also suffering from "post-party depression" like me - or who missed this year and are looking forward to the 30th - you can recapture a bit of the mood on the Western Folklife Center's YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/westernfolklife.  Share your remembrances and photos with us at info@westernfolklife.org. And please tag your Facebook photos with Western Folklife Center, so we can see what memories you're taking home with you from the Gathering!

Written by Amy Mills, Programs Coordinator, Western Folklife Center

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