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The Western Folklife Center's 24th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering was held at Elko, Nevada, January 26-February 3, 2008 and below are reports and photos.

Our thanks to those who shared reports to date, including Susan Parker, Janice Gilbertson, Andy Nelson, and Linda Kirkpatrick

Your comments and photos are welcome. Email us.

Photos were shared generously by Jeri Dobrowski. View more of her 24th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering photos at her site here, where prints are available.


Visit the Western Folklife Center web site for archived webcasts of events,  audio and video coverage, and more.


The 2008 Gathering

Susan Parker's report on Wylie Gustafson's "Whip Out a Yodel" workshop

Janice Gilbertson's report on open mic activities

Andy Nelson's "Elko in a Minute"

Linda Kirkpatrick's "A YeeHaw Moment!"

Separate Pages:

 Two pages of photos from the Gathering   

Jo Lynne Kirkwood's report and photos

Jeri Dobrowski's Cowboy Jam Session column from the Tri-State Livestock News

More from and about the Gathering (media releases, links, other publications' coverage, and more)



Your comments and photos are welcome. Email us.



The 24th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
January 27 - February 3, 2007

The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering offers a grand feast of activities in a week-long offering of workshops, classes, panel discussions, and entertainment showcasing the best in cowboy poetry and Western music.

In its continuing efforts to recognize and explore international ranching and cattle cultures, the 2008 gathering welcomed traditional Mexican artists from Sonora, Mexico, and other areas in the Western U.S. An impressive exhibit in the Western Folklife Wiegand Gallery, The Rugged, Beautiful World of the Sonoran Vaquero (on display until September 20, 2008) includes photography and handcrafted objects from Sonora, including portraits of Sonorans who have settled in the U.S.

photo by Jeri Dobrowski; view more of her 24th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering photos at her site here, where prints are available.
Patty Clayton with Jesús Manuel García and Don Adalberto Cruz Alvarez

Those who are fortunate enough to arrive before the final days' excellent auditorium shows and performances by top poets and musicians are offered additional, valuable experiences. It's also an opportunity to get together with friends and enjoy restaurants and other venues before they are filled to overflow by the crowds who arrive for the later performances. Some of the early activities offered by the Western Folklife in 2008 included ranch tours to area working ranches; a songwriting workshop with Western music legends Ian Tyson and Tom Russell; a gear-making workshop by Sonoran ropemaker Jesús García; well-known chuck wagon cook, poet, and storyteller Kent Rollins' dutch oven cooking workshop; Sonoran cooking workshops; respected horse trainer Bobby Ingersoll's vaquero-style stock horse training demonstrations; and more. There were also activities for young people, including a "Roughstock Rap" workshop with Paul Zarzyski; a corrido songwriting workshop with Juan Dies; a ranch roping workshop; a student art show, and an open mic opportunity for young poets during the Gathering.

photo by Jeri Dobrowski; view more of her 24th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering photos at her site here, where prints are available.

At the Deep West Story Camp—a recording studio in a sheep wagon parked outside the Western Folklife Center—folklorists collected stories from Gathering attendees throughout the event, as they do each year.

Interesting events abound, both before the poetry and music begins and while it is going on. Wylie Gustafson's "Whip Out a Yodel" workshop got rave reviews (see Susan Parker's story below). There were film screenings, including Chulas Fronteras, about the music of the Texas-Mexico border; Holo Holo Paniolo, about Hawaiian cowboys, the newest in a series of top films from J&S Productions; and the Western Folklife Center's Deep West Videos, short films made by ranchers, with new subjects chosen each year in a competitive process. Lively panel discussions included "Sustainable Ranching North & South of the Border" and "Keeping the Ranch Alive and Kicking." There were Latin and Western dance classes. Bette Ramsey presented Buck Ramsey: Hittin' the Trail, a warm and revealing look at Buck Ramsey's early life and their early married life, with photos and recordings. Author Dan Dagget, who "once led the environmental movement's 'drumbeat of opposition to ranching' delivered the Gathering's keynote address (which you can listen to here).

Yvonne Hollenbeck made a presentation about the 25th Anniversary Gathering quilt she's organizing for next year's event. The quilt will include the brands of past gathering performers.

photo by Jeri Dobrowski; view more of her 24th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering photos at her site here, where prints are available.

Culinary delights weren't limited to workshops. Montana poet Wallace McRae treated Western Folklife Center members and others to his own Rocky Mountain Oyster tasting, with three gallons of oysters collected from his own cattle.

A Wyoming delegation put together a great party for Wyomingites and those who wished they were, which including all sorts of local delicacies, from lamb to dandelion wine.

photo by Jeri Dobrowski; view more of her 24th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering photos at her site here, where prints are available.
Friendly Wyoming party givers made everyone feel welcome.

The Gathering always has open-mic opportunities for poets and musicians (see Janice Gilbertson's report below for more about those).

Around town, other enticing programs took place: Writer, songwriter, and poet Stephanie Davis presented her one-woman (and one-dog) show, Tales from Trail's End at a dinner theatre; Andy Wilkinson and his impressive band, "Grand Tied," performed at the Stockmen's Casino. Mike Beck brought his no-holds-barred band, The Bohemian Saints, to the Stray Dog, and rocked the tiny venue, to the delight of shoulder-to-shoulder fans. Cowboy arts, gear, and crafts were gathered at several places around town: The annual Cow Camp Trading post took place at the Red Lion Casino, the Great Basin Cowboy Trappings Gear Show was at the Elko County Fairgrounds, and the High Desert Art and Gear Show was at the High Desert Inn. Many local restaurants, galleries, and other venues offered additional entertainment and exhibits.

photo by Jeri Dobrowski; view more of her 24th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering photos at her site here, where prints are available.
Ted Davis at the Tales from Trail's End show

The Fife Folkore Archives from Utah State University brings part of its special collection of cowboy poetry books and manuscripts to the Gathering each year. Archives curator Randy Williams presides over an island of calm amid the bustling gathering. It's a great place to look at books, both rare and current, and to ask the knowledgeable staff for help in locating particular poems.

photo by Jeri Dobrowski; view more of her 24th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering photos at her site here, where prints are available.
Fife Folklore Archives Curator Randy Williams

It's hard to hold on to your wallet at the Gathering. Two well-stocked and well-managed bookstores offer books and recordings from all of the performing artists and others, along with other items. Special booksignings take place throughout the gathering. A Silent Auction of unique art, jewelry, gear, and more benefits the Western Folklife Center.

photo courtesy Virginia Bennett

Handcrafted Pete Bennett vintage-style spurs were a part of the Silent Auction

Technology plays its part in the gathering experience. There are cybercast broadcasts and archives of the main auditorium shows (you can access the audio and video cybercasts at the Western Folklife Center web site) and enterprising young filmmakers create short films (view some of those  here at the Western Folklife Center web site and here on YouTube).

All of those things, and more, happen in addition to the Gathering's official cowboy poetry and Western music shows, which draw the greatest crowds. Performers at the 2008 Gathering included Baxter Black, Jerry Brooks (Brooksie), Doris Daley, Stephanie Davis, Don Edwards, Juni Fisher, The Gillette Brothers, DW Groethe, R. W. Hampton, Brenn Hill, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Ross Knox, Wallace McRae, Waddie Mitchell, Joel Nelson, Rodney Nelson, Glenn Ohrlin, Bob Petermann, Vess Quinlan, Henry Real Bird, Pat Richardson, Kent Rollins, Tom Russell, Bob Schild, Sandy Seaton, Georgie Sicking, Jesse Smith, Sons and Brothers, Sourdough Slim, Red Steagall, Ian Tyson, Jack Walther, Wylie and the Wild West, Paul Zarzyski, and many others. Some of the first-time invited poets to the 2008 Gathering included Linda Kirkpatrick, Andy Nelson, and Diane Tribitt. (See the entire list of performers with bios and photos here at the Western Folklife Center site.)

The cowboy poetry and music shows highlights? Those are hard to single out.  In the auditorium, Don Edwards presented "The Ghost of Jack Thorp," a singular combination of storytelling and performance honoring one of the first collectors of cowboy songs on the centennial of his birth. "Old Favorites," showcased the impressive reciting talents of Jerry Brooks, Jennifer Haig, and Jesse Smith.  Waddie Mitchell and the Sons and Brothers welcomed surprise guests Juni Fisher, Andy Nelson, and Mike Fleming in a particularly crowd-pleasing auditorium show. The archived cybercasts let you enjoy most of the Convention Center's auditorium shows, which featured top performers from Baxter Black to Paul Zarzyski and many in between.

photo by Jeri Dobrowski; view more of her 24th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering photos at her site here, where prints are available.
Red Steagall at the music venue

But the auditorium is just one of many venues. Simultaneously, many sessions are held in other rooms throughout the Convention Center and at the Western Folklife Center's G Three Bar theatre. Music sessions were at the Grammar School, and there were additional activities at other venues around town. The variety is staggering, a challenge for anyone trying to choose what to attend. Most of the sessions are not ticketed, and are open to all. There was definitely something for everyone, suggested by session themes that included "Rodeo," "Favorite Childhood Poems," "Prose," "Ballads and Love Songs," "In For a Good Laugh," "The Unwritten Cowboy Code" and many more. For example, an great show at the G Three Bar theatre, "Clear Out West," featured friends Juni Fisher, Andy Nelson, Yvonne Hollenbeck, and DW Groethe. Top singer and songwriter Juni Fisher received a standing ovation, and her encore received another standing ovation. A "Prose" session, with writers Echo Klaproth, Joel Nelson, and Wallace McRae presented deep, exceptional stories to a rapt audience. Every time Dick Gibford took the stage, the audience was treated to amazing, epic-length recitations of classics and his own works. Vess Quinlan spun tales that you wished would never end. The "danger zone" was approached in a humor session, "Shootin' the Breeze," with Pat Richardson, Andy Nelson, and Kent Rollins. Gathering Founding Director Hal Cannon hosted "What's in a Song" with DW Groethe, the legendary Glenn Ohrlin, Bob Petermann, and Red Steagall and the Boys in the Bunkhouse. Even just those few examples should give an idea the outstanding events that took place daily, in each of the venues.

photo by Jeri Dobrowski; view more of her 24th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering photos at her site here, where prints are available.
Patty Clayton joined Juni Fisher in their popular duet, "The Same River"

The evening dances drew crowds. There was a Friday night dance with the Sonoran Banda Orquesta Hermanos Rivera and a sold-out Saturday night with Wylie and the Wild West.

photo by Jeri Dobrowski; view more of her 24th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering photos at her site here, where prints are available.
Wylie Gustafson at the sold-out Saturday Night dance

See many more photos here.

As we've said before: Our reports can barely touch on the rich experience of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Our best advice: Go, and join with the many thousands of people to experience for yourself how this premier event offers the best in a wide spectrum of entertainment, education, and inspiration.

Next year is the 25th anniversary of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and there are grand plans underway for the event and for a five-site performance tour of cowboy poetry and music in the western states in the spring of 2009.

We welcome your reports and photos. Email us.


See many more photos here.

Reports and Comments

  Susan Parker reports on Wylie Gustafson's Yodel workshop

photo by Jeri Dobrowski; view more of her 24th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering photos at her site here, where prints are available.
Wylie Gustafson's "Whip Out a Yodel" workshop


So You Think You Want to Yodel or “Yodeling – 101”


Everyone knows that sound. But did you know those three notes were written by Wylie Gustafson of Wylie and the Wild West?  The world-renowned yodeler wrote them in 1996, and they soon became the quirky, household sound of the internet.  Gustafson freely admits those three little notes, followed later by a five note version, “Have been good to me.” 

Yodel-ay-eee-tee!  and other sounds to “tickle my tonsils” started my adventure at the 24th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, January 26 – February 2, 2008.

Before a packed house in Elko, Wylie led a group of yodeler-wannabes through the “how-to’s” of yodeling. Starting with a brief history of the yodel’s beginnings as a form of communication in the Bavarian mountains to its evolution as a cool art form in today’s cowboy music, he taught the basics of yodeling and shared how he got started in this energetic and sometimes soulful vocal art form. 

His dad, Rib, would yodel when he was happy.  It was infectious to a young cowboy so Wylie started yodeling at an early age. Then in the 1980s while living in Los Angeles, he would hang out at old record stores looking for vinyl records recorded by the likes of Kenny Roberts, Jimmie Rodgers, and Slim Whitman. 

Yodeling uses the voice break, a smooth, pleasant-sounding (hopefully!) transition from your natural or “chest” voice to your falsetto or “head” voice.  He spoke of the importance of warming up the voice box first.  Since this was a 9:00 am workshop and I’d been out a “tad” late the night before this was a good idea. 

Leading the class through breathing, relaxation, and tongue exercises the room sounded at first a bit like a sick train pulling into the station.  As we relaxed with our neighbors and realized this was to be fun, not a contest, the highs and lows of the oooooooooooo’s” echoing across the room sounded pretty smooth.  Each participant brought his or her own character and attitude, putting the soul into the sound, bringing the yodel to life.

photo by Jeri Dobrowski; view more of her 24th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering photos at her site here, where prints are available.

Stressing the importance of yodeling in a key that is comfortable for each individual, we “toggled and flipped” through a range of “yodel-ay-eee-hee’s” and “idle-ay-eee-tees.” While there are a variety of yodeling styles the class kept it to the simpler forms. This all reminded me of a comment made by Simon Cowell during this year’s American Idol auditions, “Why do country singers always have to do that yodeling thing”?  Well, Simon, because it is cool and they can!

To me, the best information Wylie gave was that you must have a sense of humor, you don’t have to be a good singer to be a good yodeler, AND the yodeling voice seems to get better as you get older.  Some of the best yodelers are in their 50s and 60s. Yes!  Finally something that gets better as you get older!

photo by Jeri Dobrowski; view more of her 24th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering photos at her site here, where prints are available.
Wylie Gustafson and his How to Yodel... book

If you’ve a hankerin’ to try a little yodeling on your own, you can buy Wylie’s book, How to Yodel—Lessons to Tickle Your Tonsils together with an instructional CD for $10, available at his web site.  For more information on Wylie Gustafson and Wylie and the Wild West check out his web site at http://www.wylieww.com.

So….jump in the shower and let ‘er rip.  Yodeling sounds will reverberate around the shower as if you were standing on the highest peak of the Alps.  Simon Cowell, eat your heart out!

[photo at top of Susan Parker by Jeri L. Dobrowski; see her gallery of western performers and others here.]

© 2008, Susan Parker

photo by Jeri Dobrowski; view more of her 24th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering photos at her site here, where prints are available.
Wylie Gustafson and Susan Parker


Poet's Lament

I am just a poet of simple words,
dreaming of horses in vanishing herds.
I pick no gi'tar; strum no mandolin.
Sing like Juni? Ha!  I couldn't begin.
To hit the pitch of high notes in key
while crooning a tune is a stretch for me.
But this yodeling thing's now all the rage;
Wylie assures me it's better with age.
When life's troubles get me down in my boots,
I'll cast off my cares with hollers and hoots.
I'll rip out a yodel odle ay hee tee, odle ay hee tee, odle ay hee tee,
I'll just belt out a yodel odle ay hee tee, odle ay hee tee, odle ay hee tee.

© 2008, Susan Parker
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

  Janice Gilbertson was an invited performer to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 2004. She attends the event whether or not she is an invited performer. She encourages everyone to attend, for the many opportunities to perform at open sessions, jam sessions and other venues; to meet people; to be inspired by and learn from sessions and workshops; to see the "best of the best" on stage; and for the great overall experience that the Gathering has to offer.

She reports below on the open sessions. (See her 2007 reports here).

photo by Jeri Dobrowski; view more of her 24th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering photos at her site here, where prints are available.
Poets Janice Gilbertson and Linda Kirkpatrick at Elko, 2008

This year, as the last days of January blew in, I became slightly obsessed with weather-watching. Well, maybe more than slightly. The forecasters said snow. Snow everywhere. Even here ,where I live in the hills of central California! I began to check the ten-day forecast at least twice a day in case those in the know changed their minds. No luck, just snow; snow showers, snow flurries and road closures.
So, what was the big deal? Well, I'll tell you. I was going to be driving from my California home to Elko for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and I couldn't bear thinking that I wouldn't be able to make the trip. On the day I had planned to start my drive, the window of opportunity looked about half open. It appeared there was to be a lull between storms so I went for it. I slipped, slid and slushed over the Sierras and across the desert floor to Winnemucca. I happily arrived in Elko on Wednesday morning, just as I had planned.
Attending the National Cowboy Poetry gathering is an annual highlight for me, but this year was more special than usual. The Gathering had scheduled an "Open Mic Highlights" session at the G Three Bar Theater in the Western Folklife Center. It was to take place on Saturday afternoon and the performers would be chosen from the open-mic Music sessions, the "Young Buckaroo Poetry" and the "Anything Goes" poetry sessions. This was the first time a focus had been put on non-featured poets and musicians.
Every year I look forward to performing on the "Anything Goes"  open-mic session in the Cedar Room at the Elko Convention Center, where many of the main programs take place. The Cedar Room is where I see and hear old friends and first time poets.
Poets sign up each day to participate in an open-mic session. There are several sessions a day, and each session allows time for five poets. It is a comfortable, friendly venue where poets find encouragement and an appreciative audience. Each "Anything Goes" session is hosted by a folklorist. Open-mic sessions are recorded for the Western Folklife Center's archives, just as most National Cowboy Poetry events are.
This year our hosts had the new job of choosing poets to appear on the "Highlights" stage on Saturday. It was a new incentive for poets to get signed up and do our very best! Susan Parker, a friend and fellow California poet and I hurried in to sign up on Thursday and Friday mornings, hoping for sessions to fit our schedules of things to see and do. Though we arrived early both mornings, there was a line of anxious poets ahead of us.
This year, I listened to several poets that were either in Elko for the first time or who I had missed before. It always interests me to learn where the poets are from. I heard Marvin Wild from Moose, Wyoming, Yvonne Carpenter from Oklahoma, and Pastor Jeff Stoups from Big Sandy, Montana. There was James Pokinghorn, who lives in Elko and has been a Nevada rancher all his life. One of the poets in Elko for the first time was Dennis Dooley. Dennis read several wonderful poems that his father had written. Wayne Wendle is a Santa Rosa, California poet who did an outstanding recitation of "Lasca."  
I was delighted to see old friends, Jim Cardwell, Clarence Wager, and Dave Richmond and share a session with Susan Parker. We all hail from California.There were many fine poets and I regret I was not able to meet them all.
I had the good fortune of being picked for the Saturday show and I looked forward to it with enthusiasm. Because the Saturday performers came from all three "open" venues, there was quite a crowd of us waiting to go on stage. We had a nice audience to perform for. The children were so entertaining and I was amazed at what a wonderful job they did. The musical performers were so good they could they could be on a main stage. Of course, my heart is with the poets and I was so excited for them to have the opportunity to share their poems on stage at the G Three Bar Theater!
I am hoping this event was just the beginning of something new for Elko's open-mic performers. It is safe to say that most of us give our heart and soul to the sharing of our poetry and stories and events like this will encourage us to be better each year. As with anything new, there may some things to be improved upon, but it takes time. I heard undertones of concern about how the performers were chosen and the way in which the session hosts had to do the job of informing the poets of who was chosen and who was not. One poet suggested that perhaps it would be better to have the names posted in a central location after the last session each day. That might relieve some awkwardness for hosts and poets both.
I was proud and happy to be part of this new idea and hope it continues to be a featured event for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
By the way, due to snowy weather, there was to be very little "heading home" on Sunday as so many Elko visitors had planned. Once I decided to stay another day and settled into the idea of an entire day R and R, I had a bonus of seeing friends one more time in Elko! 

© 2008, Janice Gilbertson

  Poet, humorist, and in-demand emcee Andy Nelson was a first-time invited poet in 2008. Andy Nelson was named Male Poet of the Year in 2006 by the Western Music Association (WMA).


Elko in a Minute

As a rookie at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering (NCPG), I had no reference of what to expect. After participating in my first NCPG this year, I can still give no reference of comparison to anyone who has not taken advantage of these festivities, you just have to experience it for yourself. What a rush!

It’s like trying to describe what salt tastes like without using the word salt. It’s salty! That is the standard we use to describe things that taste like salt, no other. It’s the same way with the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, we use Elko as the standard by which we describe other events. There is no comparison, there is no equal, there is no other. The crowds are prepped and ready before you even hit the stage, I felt like I could have laid a big egg and the crowd would have loved it anyway. The air is electric and authentic, the atmosphere is exciting and inviting, the experience is intriguing and fatiguing... but only if you do it right!

Well, now that I have tasted salt for the first time, other meals may taste a little bland. But the memory is still savored and my salivary glands water at the thought of returning again to the fountainhead of cowboy poetry, Elko.

[photo of Andy Nelson by Jeri L. Dobrowski; see her gallery of western performers and others here.]

© 2008, Andy Nelson

  Texas poet and writer Linda Kirkpatrick was a first-time invited poet in 2008.


A YeeHaw Moment!

Words cannot even begin to explain the excitement that took over my entire body the day that I got the call from Kevin Davis asking me if I would be available to perform at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Well, now who in their right mind could even hesitate, I think that I screamed the words, “I will be there!”

The Gathering in Elko is the pinnacle and it was the invitation that I thought I would never get but right after my conversation with Kevin my brain was already spinning with thoughts of what poems would I do and what the heck would I wear!

The folks at the event were so helpful and gracious that I felt right at home even though the snow reminded me that I was miles away. I know that I commented to several people about how friendly and accommodating the people at Elko were to the entertainers. From the managers at the motel, the shuttle drivers, everyone behind the scenes, sound people and all the directors had the event running like a well oiled machine.

My first session was on the main stage and I remember when I walked out on stage thinking to myself that I am here, here at Elko and I just wanted to scream YeeHaw! It was truly the time of my life!

[photo of Linda Kirkpatrick by Jeri L. Dobrowski; see her gallery of western performers and others here.]

© 2008, Linda Kirkpatrick

See many more photos here.

Visit the Western Folklife Center web site for archived webcasts of events, audio and video coverage, and more.



More about the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering 
posted here at the BAR-D



With special thanks to Archivist Steve Green of Western Folklife Center, in a feature celebrating the 20th Annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, we have program information that includes program covers, information and lists of invited performers for each year's Gathering.  

Other features in that section include:

  • recollections from the performers and from the audience about their "first time" at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
  • poems celebrating the Gathering

We also maintain an index of all of the invited performers to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, since its inception in 1985.  





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