Featured at the Bar-D Ranch

This is an additional page of coverage of the Western Folklife Center's 23rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

See page 1 here, which includes an index of pages.


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


 Jeri Dobrowski's report and photos from Tri-State Livestock News and Cowboy Troubadour 

  Smoke Wade's report and photos from Rope Burns and Cowboy Troubadour


Jld07.jpg (9383 bytes) Western journalist and photographer Jeri Dobrowski shares more of her photos and a report that first appeared in the Tri-State Livestock News:


Northern Great Plains performers in abundance at National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

When invitations went out to the 60 or so artists and groups who performed at the 23rd annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, a great many carried addresses within the northern Great Plains. Nearly one-third of the performers and groups were from the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana and Alberta, or were native to the region.

The best in cowboy poets and Western musicians are showcased during three full days of themed sessions, night shows and dances in Elko. Sponsored by the Western Folklife Center (WFC), the official schedule offers events starting throughout the day, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. This year that amounted to 100 concurrent sessions and shows taking place around town: at the Elko Convention Center and nearby Elko Junior High School, Great Basin College and the Western Folklife Center’s G Three Bar Theater. It doesn’t take into account the open mic, walk-on opportunities available to poets and singers hoping for exposure in front of an Elko crowd.

How many of those 100 sessions and shows a person can see depends on who is performing where and when, start and end times, distance between venues, ticket availability, room occupancy and, perhaps most importantly, endurance. Here’s a glimpse at a sampling of this year’s shows with a focus on the northern Great Plains entertainers—in case you wanted to cheer on your friends and neighbors.

Montana native Dave Stamey, now living in Nipomo, Calif., opened the Wednesday night auditorium show. Stamey was recently named male vocalist and entertainer of the year by the Western Music Association. Following him were cowboy balladeer Don Edwards, Hico, Texas; and The Gimbles. Western swing artist Johnny Gimble’s son and granddaughter joined him and other band members for a rousing conclusion to "Cowboy Swing Time." 

Paul Zarzyski, Great Falls, Mont., and Wylie Gustafson, LaCrosse, Wash., were paired for a Thursday afternoon show at the WFC. "Wired and Unplugged" combined the writing talents of Zarzyski and Gustafson, who fronts Wylie & the Wild West. They collaborated on "Rodeo to the Bone" which appears on the band’s recently released album Bucking Horse Moon. Gustafson was raised near Conrad, Mont.

At the same time, up at the convention center, was "Make Me Laugh," featuring DW Groethe, Bainville, Mont.; Ken Cook, Martin, S.D.; Stephen Lindsey, Elgin, Ariz.; and Leon Flick, Plush, Ore.

Photo by Jeri L. Dobrowski used with permission. View more photos from Elko at her site here.
Ken Cook

Highlighting Thursday’s evening shows were two performances of "Trails End Ranch Radio Show." Stephanie Davis, Columbus, Mont., produced this cowboys’ version of "A Prairie Home Companion." Adding to the staged radio show festivities were Paul Zarzyski; DW Groethe; Rodney Nelson, Almont, N.D.; Wallace McRae, Forsyth, Mont.; the Bar J Wranglers, Jackson, Wyo.; Fred Newman, "A Prairie Home Companion" sound effects wizard; and a host of other invited artists.

Meanwhile, playing downtown at the WFC were "Ranch Favorites" with Dawn and Michael Moon, Rowe, N.M.; Jesse Smith, Cora, Wyo.; and Gary McMahan, Bellvue, Colo., followed closely by "Back at the Ranch" with Leon Flick; Doris Daley, Calgary, Alberta, Canada; and Skip Gorman and Connie Dover, Grafton, N.H.

Photo by Jeri L. Dobrowski used with permission. View more photos from Elko at her site here.
"Montana Gathering": Henry Real Bird, Paul Zarzyski, Sandy Seaton, Bob Petermann, and Stephanie Davis, shown with hosts Alex Swaney and Liz Dear.

Friday afternoon at 3:30, attendees could pick between "Southwest Punchers" and the "Montana Gathering." Montanans in that session included Paul Zarzyski; Stephanie Davis; Sandy Seaton, Emigrant; Bob Petermann, Wibaux; and Henry Real Bird, Garryowen. Thirty minutes earlier in the auditorium, Wally McRae and DW Groethe had kicked off "Straight from the Ranch." It was McRae’s twenty-second appearance in Elko.

Photo by Jeri L. Dobrowski used with permission. View more photos from Elko at her site here.
Bob Petermann

Stan Howe, Helena, Mont., opened the sold-out "Songs and Stories from Sheepherding" at the WFC with his lighthearted "Norwegian Sheepherders’ Ball." The Ringling Five from Wilsall, Mont., closed the program dedicated to all things woolly. While sheep may seem out of place at a cowboy poetry gathering, they were very much at home. Many cattle ranches in the West owed their success to a band of sheep that produced both a lamb crop and a wool clip.

Saturday’s 9:30 a.m. offerings included plains’ artists in two sessions. "Making West Home," a poetry and discussion group consisted of Wally McRae, Henry Real Bird, Doris Daley. and Joel Nelson, Alpine, Texas. Next door, "Great Plains" featured DW Groethe, Ken Cook, Rodney Nelson, and Yvonne Hollenbeck, Clearfield, S.D.

Photo by Jeri L. Dobrowski used with permission. View more photos from Elko at her site here.
"Great Plains":  DW Groethe, Ken Cook, Rodney Nelson, Alex Swaney (host) and Yvonne Hollenbeck.

Later that afternoon, "Poets of Utah and Wyoming" were spotlighted. On the roster were Golden Spike artists Jerry "Brooksie" Brooks and Colen Sweeten. Wyoming was represented by Jesse Smith; Georgie Sicking, Kaycee; and Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns, Newcastle. It was the 86-year-old Sicking’s twelfth appearance in Elko and Stearns’ first.

Photo by Jeri L. Dobrowski used with permission. View more photos from Elko at her site here.
Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns

Stearn’s first session in Elko, "From the Ranch," had her on stage in the auditorium with this year’s international cowboy culture guests, Patrick and Estelle Laurent, Carmargue gardians from Provence, France. The fierce bulls raised by the Laurents are used for traditional sporting games. Unlike Spain’s fighting bulls, however, these animals are not killed. They are much like the celebrity bucking bulls of the PBR—prized, honored and revered.

Two big auditorium shows signaled the gathering’s close. "Hooves of the Horses" combined crowd favorites DW Groethe, Joel Nelson and Wylie & the Wild West. Nelson’s recitation of "John Siversten the Farrier's Horse" by Jeff Streeby held the audience in rapt silence as he recounted the last hours of a Seventh Cavalry mount at the Battle of Little Big Horn. Meanwhile, at the WFC, audience members were treated to "West Coast Wranglers."

Photo by Jeri L. Dobrowski used with permission. View more photos from Elko at her site here.
Wylie & the Wild West do a sound check for "Hooves of the Horses"

As soon as Wylie & the Wild West played their last song honoring the horse, stagehands made ready for "Prairie Cowboys." That pairing brought Henry Real Bird, whose family produces the Little Big Horn re-enactment near Hardin, together with Ian Tyson of Alberta, Canada. Both Real Bird and Tyson are veteran Elko performers, having made the trek to northern Nevada more than a dozen times. Downtown, the WFC stage crew was readying for the night’s second show, "Bunkhouse Classics." Rodney Nelson served as the host for performers Jill Jones and the Lone Star Chorale, Driftwood, Texas; Randy Rieman, Dillon, Mont.' and Glenn Ohrlin, Mountain View, Ark.

With Elko’s beefy performance schedule, it’s a given that you won’t be able to see everything you’d like. The next best thing is to catch some of the shows you missed online. Nineteen of the auditorium sessions and shows were cybercast. More than 40 artists and groups appear in these shows which can be accessed free of charge at http://cybercast.westernfolklife.org/2007.

For additional photos and insights from the 2007 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, including reports by Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns, Yvonne Hollenbeck and Ken Cook, go to  http://www.cowboypoetry.com/elko2007.htm.

Next year’s gathering runs January 26 through February 2, 2008. Applications are currently being accepted for those who wish to perform. Submissions must be postmarked by April 30, 2007. For details, go to the Western Folklife Center website at www.westernfolklife.org or contact them at 501 Railroad St., Elko, NV 89801.

© 2007, Jeri Dobrowski. A version of this article first appeared in the Tri-State Livestock News



  Poet, reporter, and event organizer Smoke Wade shares his experiences and photos at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering:

Elko! Perhaps the greatest cowboy poetry spectacle on earth, the 23rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering can be summed up in a single word: Elko! If you are a serious cowboy poet, or a serious fan of cowboy poetry,
and you can only attend one gathering a year, then it must be Elko!

The Elko National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, held January 27 through February 3, 2007, was like Mardi Gras for cowboy poetry fans. Many entertainment venues ran simultaneously and, after several days it seemed the venues ran around the clock. If there was a single complaint about the gathering, it was that, as a group, folks experienced a lack of sleep.

The spectrum of participants was broad. Wide-eyed first timers wandered the venues like kids in a candy shop. Old hands held council in circles of cowboy hats—reminiscent of an ancient forum where Socrates button-holed his listeners while expounding upon a newly developed philosophy. Poetry fans lined up for autographs while the press corps scuttled about seeking interviews and just the right photo opportunity.

Elko! The granddaddy of all cowboy poetry gatherings could have been best referred to as "The World Cowboy Poetry Gathering." The cast was international. In addition to the cowboy poets and western musicians that
gathered from all corners of the United States, performers from other countries gathered as well.

Doris Daley from Canada presented flawless poetry drawing experiences from her agricultural lifestyle. 

photo by Smoke Wade
Doris Daley and Dennis Gaines

Milton Taylor from Australia performed Bush Poetry at its best. Featured cowboys from France, Patrick and Estelle Laurent, known as "gardians" of the Carmargue, conducted workshops on bull herding and ranch cooking—old customs from their native country. The Gitano Family, Gypsy musicians from France graced one's ears with their enchanting music.

The national cast of performers was equally a rainbow of diversity as well. Fisher poets from Alaska, Moe Bowstern and Ellamara Jo, delighted the audiences with sea shanties and poems of life on the sea and in the cannery. 

photo by Smoke Wade
Moe Bowstern and Ellamara Jo

Jerry "Brooksie" Brooks, Utah, dominated as a reciter of cowboy classics that included a coal-mining poem, and Henry Real Bird, Montana, shared stories of Native American traditions and lifestyles. Joel Nelson, Texas, held the audience breathless with his presentation of "Equus Caballus," while Yvonne Hollenbeck held court with her special brand of ranch wife poetry.

photo by Smoke Wade
Jerry "Brooksie" Brooks

Sheepherder poets and musicians infiltrated the ranks of the cowboy poets. Stan Howe, Montana; Mick Lucey, California; Sharon O'Toole, Wyoming; Martin Goicoechea, Wyoming; and Jesus Goni, Nevada, all intertwined their sheepherder poems and songs with the flavor of their ancestral homelands.

Tall tales proliferated as well. Prevaricators, Pat Richardson, California; Jay Snider, Oklahoma; and Dennis Gaines, Texas, squared off during the "Tell Me A Story" session. The stories were not only tall, but windy as well, and down right hard to swallow. Pat Richardson attempted calm one group of disbelievers by explaining that their stories were not true life experiences that were perhaps expanded and stretched a bit to make them more interesting.

"Just the opposite," Richardson explained, "Our stories are true life experiences that we have watered down a great deal to make them more believable."

Elko! The windy city! Hal Cannon was quoted as saying, "The local ranchers have commented that the number of outright lies per capita greatly increases when the cowboy poets come to town."

photo by Smoke Wade
Skip Gorman and Hal Cannon

While thousands of spectators crowded the gathering venues, dozens of featured performers bustled about to make their appointed sessions. Scores of visiting poets and musicians crowded the lobbies, streets and sessions, looking for a chance to perform or perhaps a chance to learn. Often they were seeking only the camaraderie of friends and new acquaintances. The venues seemed to be everywhere—almost non-stop. The Elko Convention Center presented four simultaneous shows through out the day. While large audiences packed the auditorium to watch the shows on the main stage, the three convention rooms drew spectators for the poetry sessions. Across the parking lot in the Jr. High gymnasium, a large audience gathered for the music

Downtown at the Western Folklife Center, the G Three Bar Theater remained standing room only through out the week. And as if all this wasn't enough to occupy the thousands of cowboy poetry fans that gathered in Elko, one could find art exhibits and entertainment at the Northeastern Nevada Museum, workshops at the Presbyterian church and at the Spring Creek Horse Palace, dinner shows at the Great Basin College, dancing at the Elko High School Gym, and open mic sessions at the Duncan Little Creek Gallery.

Across town, musicians and poets took to the stage. One could stroll past the furniture store and see a cowboy strumming a guitar in the display window, or visit the Pioneer Bar in the Western Folklife Center and catch Dave Bourne or Jinny Lowe, Idaho, playing the piano. Casinos and nightclubs hosted major performer productions while jam sessions crowded the early morning hours everywhere. One could stroll into The Stray Dog and catch an after hours performance by Mike Beck, California, or take in the big show at the Stockman's Hotel & Casino and see Michael Martin Murphey.

photo by Smoke Wade
Mike Beck

Some folks preferred a quieter moment. Perhaps sitting in the sunroom at the Elko Convention Center, visiting with Wallace McRae, Montana, about how the gathering began in 1985 or how it has changed. Some perhaps
visited with one of the Western Folklife volunteers about the workings of their organization.

Others were more exuberant. Paul Zarzyski kept everyone on their toes with his own robust style of presenting poetry. Baxter Black was in a league of his own and his antics packed the auditorium.  Wylie and the Wild West rocked the crowds with their own brand of western swing, and Waddie Mitchell strolled through the throngs visiting along the way.

photo by Smoke Wade
Waddie Mitchell, Jerry "Brooksie" Brooks, Dennis Gaines

Somewhere in the midst of all the shows and all the big names wandered the hopeful. Poets and musicians, that for one reason or another were not a part of the invited cast, lined up in early morning hours to sign up for the open mic sessions. With limited available spots, these performers braved freezing temperatures and little sleep to take their place in line, sometimes hours before the Convention Center opened. These sessions were as delightful as the main shows with performers from a broad geographic region putting their best boots forward—hoping that their performances would land them a spot on next year's invite list.

photo by Smoke Wade
Susan Parker, Virginia Taylor, and Janice Gilbertson performed in open sessions

The Gathering was a project of the Western Folklife Center in Elko. A thousand hat tips must be given to the staff, the volunteers and the directors of the Western Folklife Center. They were courteous, gracious hosts that made all feel welcome and comfortable. For more information about the 2008 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, visit the website www.westernfolklife.org.

Elko! Too much to tell about in a single story, too many invited performers to name, yet, the feeling may be captured in a single word—a word that paints a thousand pictures—Elko!

© 2007, Smoke Wade; versions of this report are scheduled to appear in Rope Burns and Cowboy Troubadour.

Photo by Jeri L. Dobrowski used with permission. View more photos from Elko at her site here.




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.  





 What's New | Poems | Search

 Features | Events  

The BAR-D Roundup | Cowboy Poetry Week

Poetry Submissions 

Subscribe | Newsletter | Contact Us

  Join Us!


Authors retain copyright to their work; obtain an author's
permission before using a poem in any form.


CowboyPoetry.com is a project of the Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry, Inc., a Federal and California tax-exempt non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization.  


Site copyright information