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It's the Gathering. 

The Western Folklife Center's 21st National Cowboy Poetry Gathering was held at Elko, Nevada, January 22-29, 2005 and below we have our report and contributions from others, listed below.

Our thanks to those who shared material and reports, including Michael Fleming, Linda Kirkpatrick, Doug Brewer, and John Tierney.  Photos were generously shared by Jeri Dobrowski, Andy Nelson, Jo Lynne Kirkwood, and Linda Kirkpatrick

We celebrated the 20th Anniversary Gathering in 2004 with special features, elsewhere on CowboyPoetry.com.  Those features include poetry about the Elko gathering, information from each of the Gathering's programs, and a collective index of participants from all years' gatherings, compiled by Yvonne Hollenbeck.



The 21st National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
January 22-29, 2005

Nothing compares to the Elko experience.  At the 21st National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, especially the period that started with the first big auditorium show Wednesday night to the last jam sessions at the Folklife Center's Pioneer Saloon that were still going on into the wee hours of Sunday morning, there was a dizzying array of great music, poetry, information, and fun.

photo by Jeri Dobrowski
Greeting old friends: Rib Gustafson, Jack Walther, and Paul Zarzyski
  in the Pioneer Saloon at the Western Folklife Center

The Gathering is more than just those few days and nights of entertainment. It goes on for an entire week, and includes youth workshops, such as this year's Cowboy Ranch Roping with buckaroo and roping expert Jim Brooks, Horse Hair Hitching with Margaret Pense, Texas Fiddle and Ranch Tunes with the Quebe Sisters and the Burson Family, and Writing Cowboy Poetry; exhibits, including this year's special Buckaroo! The Hispanic Heritage of the High Desert with gear, clothing, photos, printed materials, and other artifacts helping to interpret the history and heritage of the vaqueros and buckaroos of the Great Basin; films, including the outstanding Gathering Remnants; workshops from cooking to pulled wool saddle blankets to dance and song writing and including "The Rural-Urban Divide: Building Bridges in the New West," described as "an amazing group of historians, writers, conservationists and ranchers some of the most articulate participants in the new West-to discuss the urban/rural rift that has come to characterize our region..."

photo by Linda Kirkpatrick
Waddie Mitchell at an event welcoming the media

There's more than any one person can ever do at Elko, with up to 8 simultaneous venues each day, but the good news is that each of those venues offer quality entertainment, rooted in the real working west.  Our report touches on just some of the highlights we experienced.


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For the largest number of attendees, the heart of the Gathering begins Wednesday evening. Those who attended the Wednesday night show, "I'd Like to be in Texas," featuring Don Edwards, The Gillette Brothers, and The Quebe Sisters saw the Gathering get off to a spectacular start.

photo by Andy Nelson
The Quebe Sisters 

Don Edwards opened his set with one of his own favorite cowboy songs, "I'd Like to be in Texas," and in no time the audience was in his thrall.  It was his twentieth appearance at the Gathering, having missed only the first one. Don Edwards always put on an great show and this night was particularly electric. He went on to sing "Jack o' Diamonds,"  "Take Me Back to My Boots and Saddle," a dazzling rendition of Marty Robbins' "Ghost Train" with clear yodels and fancy picking, "Coyotes," "Cattle Call" (he joked that there are 300 verses, but he'd just sing 100 of the best ones), and ended a wonderful performance with "The Master's Call."

Edwards made the point that everyone on the night's show enjoys playing music, "nobody has an agenda, we're all here because we want to play music and enjoy it."

Next on were the Gillette Brothers, Guy and Pip, musicians also known as top chuckwagon cooks, who operate their grandfather's ranch located between Lovelady and Crockett, Texas. As he introduced them, Don Edwards told about their restoration of the old general store, once owned by their grandmother, that is now The Camp Street Cafe, a music venue.  The Gillette Brothers are known throughout the west for their preservation of cowboy music. They took the audience on a trip through history, starting out in 1889 with the story of Jack Thorp seeing a campfire, hearing black Texas cowboys' banjoes and getting so excited about cowboy music that he started collecting it. They transported the audience back to that camp with "Old Diamond Joe." 

Pip Gillette told about Davy's Crockett history in the area where their grandfather's ranch was established in 1912. He shared a number of Crockett's boastful, colorful quotes, and followed the tales with a song about a grandfather, perhaps their own. That led to tales of their grandmother, her general store, the freight riders of the thirties, and they did an original piece written by Guy, "Oh Rounder." In a refreshing, interesting turn, they put the times in perspective with one of the day's popular artists, Stephen Foster. They invited the audience "into the parlor" and did a lovely rendition of "Beautiful Dreamer."

They performed the title track of their newest CD, "Ridin' with Dayton," a song written by Guy about a black cowboy who worked on their grandfather's ranch and was a big influence on them. The piece includes some great guitar and banjo playing, along with a foot tambourine. They turned the traditional 16th century sailor's ballad, "The Larks They Sang Melodious" (sometimes called "Pleasant and Delightful") into an a cappella cowboy song in an awe-inspiring display of their perfect sibling harmony. They closed the set by "playing the bones," a part of their act that's become legendary on the Western music scene. They introduced the long history of the instruments, noting how they are depicted in paintings from 2000 BC, cited in ancient Roman history, and mentioned in Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream." 

Much to the audience's delight, Don Edwards came back out with a banjo and played one of Texas' oldest folksongs, "Down by the Brazos" along with the Gillette Brothers.  They brought out an Irish drum for "The Bard of Armagh," and Edwards came in with "Streets of Laredo." It just got better as they performed Maybelle Carter's "Buddies in the Saddle," "Goobye, Old Paint," and other classics. They were having as good a time as the audience.

Next up were the fiddling sensations, the Quebe Sisters, Grace,18, Sophia, 17, and Hulda, 14, performing with Mark Abbott on bass and Joey McKenzie, their teacher and three-time World Champion Fiddler. Don Edwards introduced them, saying that he was amazed by their impeccable intonation and the fact that these young musicians wanted to play Bob Wills' songs. The Quebe sisters are seasoned performers, but this show was to be their first performance that included singing.  Sophia made a great debut with "Red River Valley."  Their next selection was a 100 year old "gypsy jazz" sound, "Red Wing."  Their rendition of a favorite Bob Wills tune, "Roly Poly," gave them all a chance to sing, and you couldn't help but think of the Andrews Sisters.  They were excellent. 

The range of the Quebe Sisters' selections is wide and deep, including songs by Patsy Cline, Sons of the Pioneers, and Benny Goodman's "Airmail Special," which featured fiddle solos by each of the sisters.  The audience came to its feet in appreciation of the outstanding performance, and they were convinced to come back for a couple of encores. 

Only in Elko would can you go to hear cowboy music and come away humming Duke Ellington's "Take the A Train," but after the Quebe Sisters performed it, the music stayed with you. 

Charlie Seemann, Executive Director and the show's emcee said that he and Founding Director Hal Cannon agreed that listening to the Quebe Sisters compared to other such special times at Elko, like the first time Buck Ramsey appeared and the first time the Sons of the San Joaquin were there.  

(You can view a video cybercast of this show at the Western Folklife Center site.)

Western Folklife members were treated to poetry by two masters, Linda Hasselstrom and Wallace McRae, and the special music of the Bill Hearne Trio at a Thursday afternoon session.  

South Dakota's heralded Linda Hasselstrom--poet, writer, editor, teacher, native plant and Plains expert--met the packed auditorium right off, with force, with "Keeping an Eye Out." Her animated, dramatic presentation of her powerful poem included spitting and gestures that didn't fail to get the audience's attention. She commented that around the gathering you might "hear a certain amount  of exaggeration, but that was the truth."  She swore it was an exact representation of a conversation she had with a cowboy named Hudson who worked on the Diamond A Ranch.

photo by Linda Kirkpatrick
Linda Hasselstrom

Hasselstrom told how as a child she lived near the Badger Hole, the home of Badger Clark, who was the South Dakota Poet Laureate at the time. Prompted by her teachers, she wrote to Clark and he answered, encouraging her to pursue her writing. She recited his "Jeff Hart"; a little-known drought poem from 1934, "Our Folks"; and "Quick and Dead."

When reciting her own "Coyote Song," she advised the audience, "you'll notice that I don't rhyme." With her forceful presentations, the full house, many who came to hear rhyme, probably hadn't noticed.  Her "It's No Trick to Get Killed Ranching" created images as clear as photographs, full of ranching life's ironic humor.

She finished with one of her rare rhyming poems, "Priests of the Prairie," and admitted "it's catching." 

Probably only the acclaimed Wallace McRae, National Endowment for the Arts' National Heritage Award recipient, could follow Linda Hasselstrom. He's been a part of every one of the twenty one gatherings, which, he quipped, "Makes me more than a passing flash or a fad."  

He told how he graduated from college in 1958 and joined the Navy. He said he learned there to not talk about sex, religion, or politics and said those rules applied in bunkhouses and just about everwhere else as well. But, he commented that since he is known as a "cowboy curmudgeon," it is his duty to go against such rules, and he introduced a new poem he said was about religion, a "poetic indictment" of the apostles and missionaries who are spreading this religion throughout the land: "The Horse Whisperers."  Taking aim at everyone from Robert Redford to Tom Dorrance, it was full of his audience-pleasing wry observations and elegant humor.

The gathering theme was "Across the Generations," and completely changing direction, he took the listeners back two generations in his own family, to John B. McRae who left his home in the Scottish Highlands and went to Texas, working his way north.  In this "Scottish Medley," a mix of  styles and song, he broke into a cappella verses of "Auld Lang Syne," "I Love the Lassie, and "Bonnie Banks O' Loch Lomond," weaving a compelling story of his immigrant ancestors.

Continuing his rich presentation, he delivered another personal and poignant poem, "Urban Daughter," about his own daughter, which was also printed on the back of the program.  He commented that it was a sort of indictment of the advice children are given: daughters are told to leave the ranch and find another life and sons are ordered to stay on the ranch, whether they want to or not.  It was full of messages that resonated with the crowd.

He closed on a somber note, with a poem he wrote for his uncle's funeral, "Outriders at the End of the Trail," a tribute to a way of life. 

New Mexico's Bill Hearne Trio (Bill Hearne, Don Richmond, and Susan Hyde Holmes) was the perfect choice to follow all of that powerful poetry. They brought the mood up with their original blend of folk and southwestern sound.  They entertained with Greg Trooper's "Lucky That Way," Chuck Pyle's "Drifters Wind," a touching rendition of "Magnolia Wind," Lyle Lovett's "The Truck Song," "The Man With The Big Hat," Utah Phillips' "Rock, Salt and Nails," and "Muley Brown," an audience request.  The audience begged for an encore, and they closed their excellent show with one of their signature tunes, "New Mexico Rain."

The show was definitely a reminder of the benefit of membership in Western Folklife Center.

(You can listen to an audio cybercast of this show at the Western Folklife Center site.)

So much goes on at Elko, that it's possible to never meet up with many of the friends you'd like to see.  So we organized a breakfast on Friday morning at the Stockmen's Hotel and were pleased to have a number of friends of the BAR-D show up.

Jim and Andy Nelson, hosts of Clear Out West radio, broadcast live from the breakfast to several stations around the country.

photo by Jeri Dobrowski
The ever-cheerful Andy Nelson


photo by Andy Nelson
Jim Nelson and Andy Nelson on the air with Michael Kirkwood, 
organizer of the Sevier Valley Roundup


It was early for most of us, but plenty of coffee and story swapping kept things going.

photo by Jeri Dobrowski

Front: Bill Wood, Colen Sweeten  
Back, left to right: 
DW Groethe, Darrell Arnold, Pat Richardson, Andy Richardson, Michael Kirkwood, Doc Mayer (poet with Michael Martin Murphey's band)

photo by Jeri Dobrowski
Chris Isaacs and Colen Sweeten


A number of poets published by Cowboy Miner attended, and gathered for a photo:

photo by Jeri Dobrowski
Linda Kirkpatrick, Jane Morton, Chris Isaacs, publisher Janice Coggin, and Michael Whitaker


photo by Jeri Dobrowski
Diane Coggin Merrill, Jane Morton, and Janice Coggin

And we were pleased to also see Rod Miller, Ron and Janice Gilbertson, Jo Lynne Kirkwood, Jim Cardwell, Carrie and John Silveira, Darci Johnson and Tim Jobe of Cal Farley Boys Ranch Youth Gathering, Jeri Dobrowski, Kristin and Randy Williams of the Fife Folklore Archives, Sue Harris, Jean Voldseth, Mishelle Barnett, Ray Lashley, and a group from Michael Martin Murphey's band and entourage: Allison Crews, Kay Waggener, Laurie Jackson, and Gary Roller.  

photo by Jeri Dobrowski
Pat Richardson and Michael Fleming




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