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The Western Folklife Center's 26th Annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering was held at Elko, Nevada, January 23-30, 2010 and below are reports and photos.

Thanks to Susan Parker for her reports. Thanks to Jeri Dobrowski, Kathi Musgrave, Doris Daley, Trisha Pedroia, Betty Rodgers, Mary Branscomb, and Virginia Naumann for sharing photos.

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

2010 Program with the art of
Jim Harrison, Gainesville, Florida; www.meta-visual.com


Report from the  2010 Gathering

Susan Parker's report, "Not Just Another Writing Workshop"

Links and more

Separate page:

Copyright Eldon Lux, www.eldonluxart.com
Susan Parker's report, "East Meets West – Florida Cowboys Come to Nevada"

Your comments, stories, and photos are welcome. Email us.


The 26th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
January 23 - 30, 2010

The Wide Range in Elko

The Western Folklife Center’s (www.westernfolklife.org) National Cowboy Poetry Gathering draws crowds who come not only to enjoy the best cowboy poetry and music from the North American West, but also to take part in the event’s diverse offerings that stretch far beyond the West’s boundaries.

The 2010 event—the 26th annual Gathering, held January 23-30, 2010 in Elko, Nevada—introduced “cracker” and Seminole cowboys from Florida and Creole cowboys from Louisiana. Their music, poetry, stories, gear, and art graced stages and exhibits with their compelling styles, grown from centuries of cattle ranching traditions. Louisiana zydeco phenomenon and cattle rancher Gino Delafose and his French Rockin’ Boogie Band filled the event with electricity, in stage performances, programs in schools, and in a sold-out, jam-packed Friday night dance.

photo by Jeri Dobrowski
Doyle Rigdon

photo by Jeri Dobrowski
Iris Wall and Georgie Sicking

Florida cowboy poets, storytellers, artists, and gear makers were represented by Doyle Rigdon, Carl Sharp, Willie Johns, Iris Wall, Calvin “Buddy” Mills, and Billy Davis. In informal settings, from the Stockmen’s café to the Pioneer Saloon, many cowboying stories about the differences and similarities of  cultures were swapped by ranching folks from all over.

photo by Jeri Dobrowski
Carol Heuchan

Other cultures made their way into the Gathering as well. Australian “bush” poets often take the stage at Elko, and this year welcomed back the popular Milton Taylor and introduced Carol Heuchan. Keri Zwicker, accomplished harpist of Cowboy Celtic, treated her audience to a Latin American harp solo piece, in addition to the Canadian group’s usual acclaimed Celtic-influenced music. Lorraine d’Entremont Rawls presented her film made with Gail Steiger about French cowboys of the Carmarque, Gardian Nation, just one of the more than a dozen film showings at the event.

photo by Jeri Dobrowski
Cora Wood and Don Edwards

Representatives of younger generations featured prominently in the programming, from Wyoming’s 8-year-old Cora Wood to the hot Canadian cowboy band, Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertans. Cora performed with Don Edwards, and in another fun show, she and 9-year-old Brigid Reedy gave back top yodeler Wylie Gustafson of Wylie & the Wild West—he’s the voice behind “Yahooooo!”—every yodel he handed them. A “Boots and Pearls” show featured other young poets and musicians. Hosted by cowboy folk music singer and songwriter Andy Hedges, who joked that he was beginning to worry he’d be the only one at the 50th annual event until he met the others on the program, the show featured 18-year-old Adrian (the show shared the title of her recent album), Wyoming poet Andy Nelson, and Corb Lund and his band. Popular singer and songwriter Brenn Hill, who first appeared at the Gathering about twenty years ago when he was 16, performed in several sold-out shows.

photo by Virginia Naumann
Cora Wood and Brigid Reedy yodel with Wylie Gustafson, with Laurie Wood, seated

As always, other top Western reciters, poets, and musicians were invited, including  
Baxter Black, Stephanie Davis, Wally McRae, Joel Nelson, Riders in the Sky, Red Steagall, Dave Stamey, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Michael Martin Murphey, Ian Tyson, R.W. Hampton, Waddie Mitchell, Glenn Ohrlin, Randy Rieman, Henry Real Bird, Paul Zarzyski, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Pat Richardson, Doris Daley, Sons of the San Joaquin, Wylie & The Wild West, Mike Beck, Jerry Brooks, Dave Bourne, Bimbo Cheney, Ray Doyle, Dennis Gaines, Dick Gibford, Janice Gilbertson, DW Groethe, Linda Hussa, Linda Kirkpatrick, Ross Knox, Liz Masterson, Red Meat, Lyn Messersmith, Jane Morton, Vess Quinlan, Bob Schild, Sandy Seaton, Georgie Sicking, Jay SniderGail Steiger, Diane Tribitt, Dan Wheetman, and Andy Wilkinson. Some first-time performers included Marty Blocker, Denise McRea, Mike Puhallo, John Reedy, and Miss “V” the Gypsy Cowbelle.

photo by Kathi Musgrave
Cowboy, poet, and Cowgirl Hall of Fame Inductee Georgie Sicking

There were daily open-mic opportunities in front of good audiences for poets and musicians. (All are invited to apply to appear at each year’s event. See the Western Folklife Center web site for details.)

photo by Virginia Naumann
Poets Linda Kirkpatrick and Diane Tribitt, with songwriter and musician
Ray Doyle in the background

Workshops, seminars, tours, and discussion sessions covered everything from women running ranches to  guitar techniques with Mike Beck, writing prose with Teresa Jordan (see Susan Parker's report below), copyright issues with Ian Tyson, local ranch tours, rawhide braiding, Creole and Basque cowboy cooking, and more.

photo by Virginia Naumann
Poets DW Groethe, Linda Kirkpatrick, Diane Tribitt, Ross Knox, and Dick Gibford

Highlights? There are so many things to see and do (with as many as eight simultaneously scheduled venues) that every person’s picks would be different. Cowboy, horseman, poet, and educator Henry Real Bird, now the Montana Poet Laureate, gave an impressive keynote address; Grammy-award winner (his newest received the day after the Gathering) Ramblin’ Jack Elliott put on a show with Mike Beck that celebrated the strength of the tradition and future of their brand of “Western”; and North Dakota rancher, writer, and poet Rodney Nelson stood up to a blizzard that had closed most roads, and raced for 20 hours to show up just before his main-stage show with Pat Richardson, Yvonne  Hollenbeck, and Andy Nelson, and they all put on a hilarious performance.

photo by Doris Daley
Western Folklife Center Programs Coordinator Tamara Kubacki with Yvonne Hollenbeck, Pat Richardson, Andy Nelson, and the "stand in" for Rodney Nelson, drawn by Pat Richardson

Top singer and songwriter Dave Stamey repeatedly delighted audiences with his unique words, music, and commanding presence; California cowboy, poet, and reciter Dick Gibford delivered a flawless 13-minute recitation of Bruce Kiskaddon’s “Willow Creek Wedding,” the first recitation of that poem that anyone could remember; a songwriter session led by Hal Cannon with Andy Wilkinson, Andy Hedges, Alissa HedgesStephanie Davis, and Ray Doyle gave a glimpse into their creative processes, with great entertainment included (and soon after the event Andy Hedges and Andy Wilkinson received the Western Heritage "Wrangler" Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum); and rancher, writer and poet Joel Nelson, recently named an National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, bravely presented a knock-your-socks-off selection of his never-before-read-publicly free verse.

photo by Virginia Naumann
The brand quilt conceived and created by champion quilter and poet Yvonne Hollenbeck,created for the 2009, 25th Gathering anniversary, now hangs in the Western Folklife Center. The hand-stitched quilt includes 160 blocks with the brands of past Gathering participants. Performers and their families supplied their brands, and some created their own quilt blocks

More? Waddie Mitchell hosted Brenn Hill and R.W. Hampton in an unforgettable show of music and poetry; the recitations and poetry of Oklahoma rancher and poet Jay Snider gave a strong launch to a sold-out show that included Geno Delafose and his band and Wylie & the Wild West; Wallace McRae offered his 4th annual Rocky Mountain Oyster Tasting; a riveting exhibition, “Florida Cattle Ranching: Five Centuries of Tradition,” showcased history, gear and culture; and Baxter Black welcomed Liz Masterson and Doyle Rigdon to his Western Folklife Center members' show, for which tickets are given out by lottery.

photo by Jeri Dobrowski
Baxter Black welcomed Liz Masterson and Doyle Rigdon

In the “Off the Page” sessions, in which every invited poet has 15 minutes to do whatever they like, memorable performances were made by Jerry Brooks, Linda Kirkpatrick, Janice Gilbertson, Marty Blocker, Jane Morton, Vess Quinlan, Doris Daley, DW Groethe, Diane Tribitt, Randy Rieman, and so many others, The Deep West Video project, now in its fifth year, showed a number of compelling short films about life in the West made by amateur filmmakers (see them on YouTube).

photo by Kathi Musgrave
Diane Tribitt, Belinda Gail, Bob Schild, and Wally McRae

Paul Zarzyski and Wylie Gustafson talked about and demonstrated poet and songwriter collaborations in a lively session called “Song Swap” and Californians, headed up by songwriter and poet Jim Cardwell, put on a fun state party where all were welcome.

photo by Jeri Dobrowski
California poet Janice Gilbertson helps out at the California party

Surprise guest Belinda Gail sang a moving "Amazing Grace" along with R.W. Hampton, and Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertans lowered the average attendee age by decades in a no-holds-barred midnight dance on Saturday; and that is definitely just smallest look at some of the best events.

photo by Betty K. Rodgers
Idaho photographer and publisher Betty K. Rodgers captured Vess Quinlan's "bible,"
his well-worn collection of poems, stories, and notes

Poets, musicians and filmmakers often time their new releases for the Gathering, and some had autograph sessions. One of the most meaningful for the Gathering was the release of a 2-CD collection of the late Larry McWhorter’s work, The Poetry of Larry McWhorter. Red Steagall, Waddie Mitchell, Andy Hedges, Jean Prescott, Larry’s daughter Abi McWhorter, and others were on hand.  Other new releases included Andy Nelson’s book, Riding with Jim, Yvonne Hollenbeck’s CD, Sorting Time; Henry Real Bird’s Rivers of Horse CD; Jerry BrooksShoulder to Shoulder CD, Janice Gilbertson’s Riding In chapbook, Mike Beck’s Feel CD; DW Groethe’s The Night Ol’ Flukie Foundered chapbook; Cowboy Celtic’s Other Peoples’ Cattle CD; Andy Wilkinson and Andy HedgesLong Ways From Home CD; the 2010 Deep West Videos DVD, and more.

So many other things go on at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and around town. Jam sessions sprang up everywhere; an exhibit of Kevin Martini-Fuller’s (www.kevinmartinifuller.com)  photographs from the past 25 years of the Gathering made for a constant stream of impressed viewers at Cowboy Joe’s café; art and gear shows and exhibits took place at a myriad of venues.

Some of the main stage performances are available for watching at the Western Folklife web site and on YouTube. But nothing replaces the experience of being there. Anyone with an interest in cowboy culture should find their way to the event. Your next chance: January 22-29, 2012.

photo by Trisha Pedroia
Carol Caldwell-Ewart and Betty Rodgers take a break to enjoy the Ruby Mountains
and other scenery around Elko

Additional Reports 


  by Susan Parker with photos by Mary Branscomb

Not Just Another Writing Workshop

From the get-go the energy was magical, as if the stars were in perfect writer’s alignment, in harmonious synchronicity, so that all cogs clicked into place at exactly the right moment, setting the muse into action. Such was noted author and poet Teresa Jordan’s workshop, Stories From Life—Writing Short Nonfiction, at the 26th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko in January, 2010. 

Through the windowpanes, January’s crisp sunlight sparkled like polished diamonds off Nevada’s Ruby Mountains.  Anticipating inspiration from Jordan’s writing expertise, we were not disappointed. This group of twelve men and women from varied backgrounds gathered to learn new writing techniques, to jump-start their writer’s batteries back to life, baring intimate souls to a group of strangers in the process. 

In preparation for sixteen hours of writing spread over three days, Jordan reminded us that good writing is all about the craft; that it takes practice, practice, practice; and that it is important to write daily… “to show up at the page.” A good habit to establish is to just sit down to write for a set period of time, regardless of what you put on the page. If you are like me, you struggle with every single piece. But now and then a “gift from heaven” shows up, a piece that practically writes itself. If you don’t write daily, the gift will drift elsewhere. I can’t count the number of times I have said, “I will write it down later,” only to have “later” never come. Those brilliant Nobel-prize-winning-words evaporate into the universe forever! Most of my workshop-mates bemoaned the same experience.

Jordan pointed out that writers read in a different way. This made perfect sense to me and hit home. In my former life, I was only concerned with the bottom line, when a real estate project was, or, heaven forbid wasn’t, coming in within budget.  So when reading a book, I usually scanned past the details, in a hurry to see where the story was going. I lost much in that process and now try to read with a writer’s eye, paying closer attention to the smallest detail. Jordan recommended a book titled Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. I promptly ordered it upon arriving home to ensure I glean everything possible from time spent reading.

She also stated the importance of “showing” as opposed to “telling,” getting the readers where you want them to be, and then “showing” them from there, like painting a picture with words. Readers enjoy connecting the dots. It is the writer’s job to give readers the dots worth connecting, and trust that they can connect the dots. Writers also must have enough confidence in their writing to be able to eliminate lines when there is more “telling” than “showing.”

photo by Mary Branscomb
Ken Rodgers, right, talks with Bill Jones

Sometimes writers get stuck along the same trail, in a rut. Jordan suggests finding something to “trigger” the brain to break out of that rut. In the workshop we used a variety of triggers to prompt the process. One of my favorites is “I remember…” Sometimes a long-forgotten memory bursts into my brain as if it sat there just waiting…waiting for the day when its story needed to be told.  What an adventure to relive old memories: to laugh at childhood silliness; recall the less-than-stellar teenage boyfriend; one frightening she-could-have-died horseback ride with mom. And then to recognize the cathartic value in addressing unpleasant ones, realizing you came out okay on the other side, perhaps a bit bruised but sanity intact.

photo by Mary Branscomb
Teresa Jordan and Paul Zarzyski

On Wednesday afternoon Paul Zarzyski came in for a few hours to share some of his thoughts about writing prose as opposed to poetry. He finds writing prose liberating, relieved from the pressure to analyze every word, without the agony of needing to make each word “sing,” all the while discovering the joy in the fact that prose can be more conversational. 

photo by Mary Branscomb
Vess Quinlan, Bill Jones, and Paul Zarzyski

This was a workshop where everyone wrote, encouraged greatly by Jordan’s positive comments.  There were several writing assignments each day followed by discussion. There was even “homework” but no one minded, eager to share what they had written. Everyone was energized and excited about getting the writer’s juices flowing again. 

For me the workshop was an intensely gratifying experience, releasing thoughts I’d held onto for a long time because I felt I never had a format in which to write them. Some things just don’t work in poetry. I have the makings of some “good stuff.” I promised myself I would write something every day and I have. I sure wouldn’t want to miss out on The Prize! Thank you, Teresa Jordan.

photo by Mary Branscomb

Thank you also to the Western Folklife Center for recognizing the importance of writing workshops. I take a writing workshop whenever I have the opportunity. My writing is improved by the variety of instructors, learning or relearning tidbits from each one. There is usually so much good information it is difficult to remember everything at one time. It is also about the camaraderie. As one of this workshop’s participants stated, “Writing is a lonely business.” For that reason it is nice to meet others that share your interest and passion for writing, with whom you can continue to communicate. I have remained friends with several writers that I met at a Zarzyski workshop in Elko in 2007. We continue to take workshops together at Elko whenever we can. I hope these workshops will continue to be an important part of the Elko experience.

© 2010, Susan Parker

Copyright Eldon Lux, www.eldonluxart.com

Read Susan Parker's "East Meets West—Florida Cowboys Come to Nevada" here on page 2.


Links and More


  •   Jeri Dobrowski writes about "Alligators and Swamp Cowboys" in a report from the Gathering for her February, 2010 Cowboy Jam Session column here at CowboyPoetry.com (and in other publications).


  •   Candy Moulton has an excellent story and photos from the Gathering here at The Fence Post.


  •   Videos from the gathering and Deep West videos are available on the Western Folklife Center's channel here at YouTube.


  •   Visit the Western Folklife Center's special Gathering web site for archived webcasts of events, audio and video coverage, and more.



Your comments, stories, and photos are welcome. Email us.




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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