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The Western Folklife Center's 22nd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering was held at Elko, Nevada, January 28 - February 4, 2006 and below we have a report and contributions from others, listed below.

Our thanks to those who shared material and reports, including Janice Gilbertson and Van Criddle. Photos were generously shared by Jeri Dobrowski and Yvonne Hollenbeck.

We welcome additional reports and photos.  Email us.

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 22nd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
January 28 - February 4, 2006

Elko.  It's the center of the cowboy poetry and western music universe. For twenty two years, the Western Folklife Center has hosted the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, "a week-long celebration of life in the rural West, featuring the contemporary and traditional arts that arise from lives lived close to the land."  So much goes on at the multi-venue event, that no one person could take it all in.  In addition to poetry and music, there are dances and dance activities, art and gear shows, film showings, open mike opportunities for poets and musicians, and a variety of seminars and workshops about everything from cooking to fiddling  to writing. While top talent is showcased at the major ticketed Convention Center and Western Folklife Center shows, you'll find the same talent in shows and sessions that are open to anyone for the nominal festival registration fee. And some of  the best things in Elko are free: running into old friends, making new friends, dropping in on other independent venues, and sitting in on spontaneous late-night jam sessions  that crop up around town.

A number of musicians and poets made first-time appearances at Elko in 2006, including Jerry "Brooksie" Brooks, Jay Snider, Curly Musgrave, Jean Prescott, Ray Owens, Gail T. Burton, Tammy Gislason, Kip Calahan, Robert Dougless, and Brooke Ryan Turner.  

photo by Jeri Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights
Gail T. Burton

Returning poets and musicians included Virginia Bennett, Baxter Black, David Bourne, Cowboy Celtic, Doris Daley, Don Edwards, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Hot Jazz Caravan, Jess Howard, Linda Hussa, Chuck Larsen, Wallace McRae, Michael Martin Murphey, Joel Nelson, Rodney Nelson, Glenn Ohrlin, Pat Richardson, Randy Rieman, Quebe Sisters, Riders in the Sky, Tom Russell, Jesse Smith, Sourdough Slim, Gail Steiger, Colen Sweeten, Ian Tyson, Dick Warwick, Wylie and the Wild West, Paul Zarzyski, and many others.

photo by Jeri Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights
Virginia Bennett

photo by Jeri Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights
Sourdough Slim


At Elko, the programming often has the vision and confidence to go beyond the expected, and there's no end to the great music, poetry, entertainment, and rich experiences those efforts provide.  This year, South American gauchos took part in the Western Folklife Center's continuing cultural exchange. Renato Borghetti and his quartet and Luis Carlos Borges performed traditional Brazilian music. Master Argentinean rawhide braiders Armando Deferrari and Pablo Lozano presented two braiding workshops.

An engaging group of Fisher Poets (Jon Broderick, Dave Densmore, Geno Leech, and John van Amerongen) entertained crowds who had no difficulty recognizing the similarities between the work of commercial fisherman and that of ranchers and cowboys.  Other sessions bravely went where most gatherings never can or do, including an unforgettable one with poets Joel Nelson and Wallace McRae reading their prose. Their autobiographical stories drew in the listeners and gave insight into the experiences that inform their acclaimed poetry.


photo by Jeri Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights
Jerry "Brooksie" Brooks

Just some of the highlights included: Jerry "Brooksie" Brooks' flawless performance, along with master reciter Randy Rieman and Jesse Smith on a Friday Convention Center show. Three top poets -- Joel Nelson, Randy Rieman, and Virginia Bennett -- drew on their long working experiences, their own works, and classics in an impressive "Poems of Horses" session in the Convention Center.  

photo by Jeri Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights
Joel Nelson, Virginia Bennett, and Randy Rieman share "Poems of Horses"

Baxter Black picked a poet from one of the many open mike sessions, Ken Gardner, who performed along with him and Jim Schafer on a fun Saturday afternoon Convention Center show. Doris Daley managed to inject some class -- while holding her own with humor and talent as perhaps no one else could -- in a Convention Center show that also featured the hilarious Rodney Nelson and Glenn Ohrlin. (All Convention Center shows are available for listening -- and a few for viewing -- on the cybercasts at the Western Folklife Center's web site). 

photo by Jeri Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights
Glenn Ohrlin

photo by Jeri Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights
Doris Daley and Rod Nelson


Pat Richardson, Jess Howard, and Paul Zarzyski dazzled, humored and delighted the crowds in a Rodeo poetry session, where the audience spilled into every available aisle. Likewise, the "Great Plains Poets" session that included Paul Zarzyski, Rodney Nelson, Jess Howard, Wallace McRae, Yvonne Hollenbeck, and others was packed, and the poetry ranged from wild to reverent, all top notch. 

photo by Jeri Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights
Top row, Paul Zarzyski
Standing, from left, Wallace McRae, Jess Howard, and Yvonne Hollenbeck
 In front, Rodney Nelson


Jean Prescott, Yvonne Hollenbeck, and Curly Musgrave gave a warm, talent-filled show at the Western Folklife Center.

photo by Yvonne Hollenbeck
Jean Prescott, Curly Musgrave, and Yvonne Hollenbeck

Bette Ramsey put on a Texas Party, the first in planned annual parties, to be hosted by a different state each year (Montana in 2007). The party was almost too full to be called standing-room-only, and fellow Texans from Cal Farley's, Tim Jobe, Mary Shields and Mike Pacino, along with Jean Prescott and Michael Martin Murphey and others made it just what you'd expect from Texas: big and fun. Bette also gave an excellent, worthwhile workshop about publishing, drawing on her experiences in co-editing the just-released Buck Ramsey's Grass, from Texas Tech University Press.

photo by Jeri Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights
Texans Joel Nelson, Jean Prescott, and Robert Dougless

Among the "best-things-in-life-are-free" department, not on the official schedule, were a surprise birthday party for Pat Richardson, which has already entered into legend, and Mike Beck's performance at the Stray Dog, where Ramblin' Jack Elliott and others packed into the narrow saloon to take in his talents.

photo by Yvonne Hollenbeck
Bob Schild came just for Pat Richardson's party. 
He's on the left, with Pat Richardson and his brother Jess Howard to his right

Any one person will have different favorites and experiences. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who didn't have a good time on a trip to Elko. You can catch cybercasts of many of the shows on the Western Folklife Center's web site (www.westernfolklife.org), which also includes information for poets and musicians about applying for the next gathering (deadline, April 15, 2006). The next National Cowboy Poetry Gathering  is scheduled for  January 27 - February 3, 2007.

A version of this report appears in the March/April 2006 edition of Rope Burns



The Elko Experience, by Van Criddle

On Feb. 7, 2006, I was just winding down from my first-ever but long-anticipated trip to the Elko Cowboy Gathering.  First impression: WOW! It is such a huge venue with so many different things going on at the same time that I don't know how they coordinate it all. The Western Folklife Center is the heart of the Gathering and houses a wealth of information about cowboying and ranching. Be sure to visit their website.

During the week I had the opportunity to observe and learn from some mighty fine poets and musicians. Most of them were very friendly and willing to stop and visit. Virginia Bennett, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Baxter Black, Don Edwards, Curly Musgrave, and others were often just walking around the Convention Center stopping and visiting with folks. I attended a fiddle workshop and to my surprise the backup band for the fiddlers was none other than Riders in the Sky.

The open poetry sessions were well attended and sometimes visitors like Baxter Black and others would be in the audience. Some of the best poetry I listened to came from the open sessions. Kathy Moss did an outstanding job as she usually does and had everyone in the palms of her hands. They even let me share a few poems a couple of times. Nobody threw anything so I guess
they passed muster. The open sessions were a great opportunity to observe a bunch of folks and examine their style and their presentation. I made a list of the things that I really liked and the things that I didn't care for at all. I'll use that as a guide in honing my own skills.

The main sessions with the "pros" were very good; plenty of sessions and plenty of rooms for everybody to get to see their favorites. The sessions didn't drag, if anything you wished that time would slow down. I was in awe. Poet after poet after poet shared poems that made me laugh till I hurt, cry 'til I couldn't and filled my brain with so many thoughtful words.

There were plenty of things to do at night as well. Performances of such greats as Riders in the Sky and Wylie and the Wild West were available if you were lucky enough to be in possession of the much coveted tickets. For those who weren't so lucky there were performances available at many downtown locations. A favorite was the Duncan Little Creek Gallery, a great tavern and art gallery next to the world famous Capriola's Saddle Shop. Billy Rose and the Desert Rose Band performed there each night. They opened the stage to other musicians and poets to share their talents each night as well. Billy was even kind enough to invite me to come and recite a little
with them. It was a wonderful fun time. I ran into my old pals Wayne Nelson from Rupert, Idaho, and Larry Gibson from Townsend, Montana. They both had the crowd jumpin' and laughin' every night.

It was wonderful to see how many people love Western Music and Cowboy Poetry. At the Gallery I met two couples from jolly old England who'd spent a ton of money to be there. They were having the time of their life. They love the Cowboy. I saw them several times after that first meeting and on the last meeting they said that they had made a commitment to come back next year. It let me know what an awesome obligation we all have to keep the cowboy alive. He's a hero and a symbol to the entire world.

I'd recommend the Elko experience to anyone. If you can come, I'll see ya there next year.


  About Elko by Janice Gilbertson

I kept trying to poke the poke-resistant pillow into an odd enough shape to fit my neck so I could snuggle down and go back to sleep. The warm air blowing seriously from the truck's heater and the humming of tires on the frozen pavement lulled me to the state between wakefulness and sleep. And then it started... the reliving of "Elko." Faces and words crowded one another out of the edges of my mind. First, I tried to concentrate on WHO I saw. True friends who I am always so happy to see, Virginia Bennett and Margo! Poets I have had the pleasure of meeting, Paul Zarzyski, Jay Snider, Brooksie, Doris Daley...I can't name them all and they really do almost seem like friends. 

So then, of course, I begin thinking of their poetry; their words, their voices, the stories they tell. Linda Hussa, whom I don't know, has the voice of liquid gold. I was so relaxed after I listened to her I felt melty. Paul Zarzyski is on the other end of the deal. He makes my brain zing...or something like that, and I love it. Friend Virginia Bennett is all to me. She never fails to make me laugh and her heartfelt poetry with it's beautiful original delivery always stays with me for days and more. Oh, Pat Richardson and Jess Howard...close your eyes and GUESS WHO?

I was happy to see so many of my open mic pals. How wonderful to go to Elko and see familiar faces and then add a few new ones. I say to Ron, who is lost in man thoughts about the Super Bowl, "Have you noticed that everyone who has the heart and desire to share Cowboy Poetry is really NICE?" He agrees. I, personally, feel "connected." Because I do like to fancy myself a Poet, other brain cells wanted to take over and think about what WE would write next. I began having these haywire kaleidoscopic images of the alphabet bumping around in my very tired brain's eye. I was feebly trying to wrangle them into useful words, new words to fit in my next outstanding, perhaps Classic poem. Sleep finally won out, but it didn't erase one single memory!

Elko! How you inspire me! Thanks so much to all of you who make such a fun, wonderful, MEANINGFUL time happen for the rest of us! Until next year....

(Janice Gilbertson was invited to the 20th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 2004.)



More Photos

Around the Convention Center...

photo by Jeri Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights
Michael and Jo Lynne Kirkwood

photo by Jeri Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights
Folklorist Jens Lund and Wallace McRae


...some nonsense

photo by Jeri Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights
Pat Richardson, Jess Howard, and Stan Howe


photo by Jeri Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights
The Miller family traveled as a team (that's Rod Miller on the right)


...and more nonsense: the Pat Richardson surprise birthday party:

photo by Jeri Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights
Jim Nelson was the so-called master of ceremonies

photo by Jeri Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights
Pat Richardson had to find some way to defend himself

photo by Jeri Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights
Everyone else -- including Jay Snider and Brooksie -- couldn't stop laughing 

photo by Yvonne Hollenbeck
Pat's good friends Rodney Nelson and Bob Schild were in on the secret

photo by Yvonne Hollenbeck
Paulette Tcherkassky and the gal who jumped out of the cake (Kip Calahan)



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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