This is page four of our report on the Western Folklife Center's 21st National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
See the first page here.
The 21st National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
January 22-29, 2005
continued from page three...
- And more ...
- Linda Kirkpatrick's report from Rope Burns
- Doug Brewer's report from "So You Want to be a Cowboy Star"
- John Tierney's report on "The Gathering Within"
photo by Jo Lynne Kirkwood
Australian poets Rusty Christensen, Melanie Hall, and Milton Taylor
All of we've reported on was just a tiny glimpse of a very few Gathering activities. There were numerous great sessions daily where you could find, for example, Ross Knox, Waddie Mitchell, and Dick Gibford in a session, and at the same time, Glenn Ohrlin, Rodney Nelson, and Paul Zarzyski performing in the next room.
photo by Jo Lynne Kirkwood
Poet's Choice: Paul Zarzyski at the lectern with, from left,
emcee Elaine Thatcher, Vess Quinlan, Joel Nelson, and Melanie Hall
There was the Buffalo Feast donated by the Crow Tribe of Montana, and the Grupo Cimarrón, Colombian llaneros, a part of the Western Folklife Center's cultural exchange with cowboys from
South America. There were wonderful young performers, such as Oscar Auker, and family groups, including the Burson Family and the Milner Family.
photo by Linda Kirkpatrick
photo by Andy Nelson
The Milner Family
photo by Andy Nelson
The Burson Family
There were also opportunities to enjoy the talents of Dave Bourne, Dan Roberts, Frank Gleeson, J. B. Allen, Joel Nelson, Echo Roy Klaproth, Wylie & the Wild West, Jack Walther, Gail Steiger, Randy Rieman, Jesse Ballantyne, and so many others.
There were dances, a dinner theater, the silent auction ... and other entertainers all around town, including Mike Beck at the Stray Dog, Hot Club of Cowtown at the Red Lion, Desert Breeze at the Duncan LittleCreek Gallery, and Michael Martin Murphey at the Stockmen's.
photo by Jeri Dobrowski
Pat Richardson and Michael Fleming, poster boys for fun
The best way to experience Elko is to be there. There's nothing like it.
We were pleased to work with the Elko Daily Free Press, which put together a 50-page special Gathering issue that included features and many poems, all from poets with work at CowboyPoetry.com, including: "Good Clean Fun" by Rodney Nelson, "Keeping and Eye Out" and "Hands" by Linda Hasselstrom, "The Cowboy Creation" and "The Flying Horse" by Chris Isaacs, "Things of Intrinsic Worth" by Wallace McRae, "Toot" and "The Pony Express Trail," by Ray Lashley, "Ed's Funeral" and "Shep's Poetry" by Pat Richardson, "There's a Silence" by DW Groethe, "To Her" by Badger Clark (and sung by Wylie Gustafson), "Near Mote, Nevada," by John Dofflemyer, and "Recipe for a Cowboy Poet" and "Story With a Moral" by Waddie Mitchell.
Our 2005 Gathering program index here, includes a list of all of the invited performers.
Linda Kirkpatrick filed the following report with Rope Burns, and it was printed in their 2005 March/April edition:
In the middle of the snow covered mountains surrounding Elko, Nevada, the 21st Annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering kicked off with a bang. The theme this year was "Across the Generations," stressing the importance of encouraging the younger generations to carry on the traditions of the West and family traditions.
Cultural exchange groups represented were the Grupo Cimarron from South America and the winners of the Australian Quantas Waltzing Matilda Bush Poetry Contest.
Elko, Nevada, is located in the wide open regions of northern Nevada. There are miners, Basque sheepherders and, on this particular weekend, lots of cowboys and cowgirls who come to this area for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. This gathering is one of the largest and oldest in the world and well worth anyone's trip. The first gathering was in 1985 and it was decided that it would be held in January before calving, in the middle of nowhere and in the middle of winter. This gathering attracted folks from all walks of life and from many miles away. This year the 21st Annual Gathering was celebrated with ample cowboy poetry, stories and music. It was impossible to make every show, but, oh what a fun challenge to try to catch everything!
The Gathering started on Saturday, January 22 with workshops, exhibits, art shows and films. This writer arrived on Wednesday evening after a 2 hour drive to San Antonio then a 5 hour flight from San Antonio to Salt Lake and
a 3 ½ hour drive by car from Salt Lake to Elko, but it was all worth the time invested.
Darcy Minter, External Communications Coordinator, welcomed the press and artists at a get acquainted. She announced that the Western Folklife Center was presented a National Award for National Museum Service. I must mention that this is an award very well deserved. Waddie Mitchell then spoke about the history of the event and the importance of living the traditions.
From J. B. Allen to Paul Zarzyski and all the artists in between, the audiences were entertained beyond belief, but the ones who stole the shows were the younger generation. The young artists represented this year were Oscar Auker and Rusty McCall. Family groups such as the incredible Burson Family and the Quebe Sisters impressed the audiences with the strength of family traditions. In listening to the kids, you can rest assured that the traditions of the west will be carried on into the future.
Some of the poets that this reporter caught were Wally McRae, Linda Hasselstrom, Chris Issacs, Pat Richardson, Gwen Petersen and Frank Gleeson. The music was extra ordinary and the cowboy crooners that I had the privilege of hearing were The Bill Hearne Trio, D. W. Groethe, R. W. Hampton, Don Edwards and the Gillette Brothers.
Another moving program was billed as "Up Crazy Woman Creek". It was the cowgirl side of cowboy life told by Gwen Petersen, Katie McCall-Owen, Deanna McCall, Jane Morton and Linda Hasselstrom. This was a very moving program
as told from the eyes of the women.
Another great show was the member show on Wednesday night that was a stage full of Texas artists. Since Texas is my home state, I was extremely proud of their performance. The performers were Don Edwards, the Gillette Brothers and the Quebe Sisters.
photo by Linda Kirkpatrick
ur hats off to the committees and the city of Elko for a quality event. The talent was abundant and the fun was non-stop. More information can be obtained by checking out the Western Folklife Center web site at
© 2005, Linda Kirkpatrick
Doug Brewer sent the following report on the workshop, "So You Want to be a Cowboy Star" (see our report here)
How to Make It Big In Cowboy Poetry
If You Ever Get the Time
Tips, tidbits and golden nuggets
from a panel of leading cowboy poets, musicians
and one folklorist
Doug Brewer’s notes and ideas from a discussion with Wally McRae, Paul Zarzyski,
Wylie Gustafson (Wild West), Michael Fleming (New West), Glenn Ohrlin and
the 2005 Elko National Poetry Gathering Program Director Sally Haueter
“Rule #1: Don’t quit your day job!” ―Wally McRae
“Wanna be a cowboy poet, eh? So you never want to own a real nice car…” ―Glenn Ohrlin
“First requirement is you gotta be drop-dead handsome.” ―Wally
(Glenn Ohrlin milked that one to a fine art. He got more laughs with one deadpan Jack Benny look on his face, than any number of words I’ve heard from anyone saying anything ever!)
So were some of the initial comments (and expressions) in a delightful and insightful session at the 2005 Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering, titled, “So You Wanna Be a Cowboy Star.” It was a non-music “jam session” with the above “stars” which for me was one of the best sessions I’ve ever attended at the gathering. Would that this becomes a tradition: just chatting and asking questions with these gurus of our genre, really, on any topic that tickled our fancy. They were just there anxious to provide whatever help they could to anyone who wanted it. Following is my best attempt to recall some of the ideas that came out of that session whether I remember who said what or not.
Wally told of one fellow who would always hang around after a performance looking for advice. He told Wally, “I think the trick is coming up with a good gimmick. Zarzyski has his ties and mustache. Buck had his wheelchair. Joel’s got his eye-patch. Wiley, his long skinny legs. You tuck your pants in your boots… What’s left?” he said. “You gotta have a good gimmick.”
“I thought he was kidding! He thinks that’s all it takes. It might be a part of it, but you’ve also got to give half a lifetime living it with a passion and develop some desirable talent that people want to watch and hear. (Incidentally, I have an idea for a gimmick. See me after.)”
In Baxter’s rabbit act is a line, “while I was sitting on my back porch one morning and everyone else was off to work, (I’d done my work for the day. I’d had my one original idea.)…” Wally suggested that one “original idea” just may be the thing that helps you break through.
He said poetry takes time. “After a while you may get to where you can write down a good rough draft of a poem the first time, but it’s only say 80% done. And that other 20% may take you weeks or months or even years to bring it to the quality you want and that it needs.”
He and Paul visited a friend, an aged poet in a rest home and they couldn’t wake him. So they started reciting parts to some of his poems. Then he awoke. Wally said he asked him, why did you use the word “sigh” in one of them? Well, what other words are there? “Yearn, maybe.” I couldn’t use “yearn” because “yearn” wasn’t the “perfect word.” “Sigh” was the perfect word. It takes work. For anybody, it takes work.
Paul quoted Samuel Clemens: the difference between the perfect word and the almost perfect word is like the difference between “lightning” and “lightning bug.”
Put yourself into adverse situations. Thirst after criticism. Seek it. Relish it. Latch onto it and improve your act based on it. Once I couldn’t handle it. There were some chords I didn’t know back when we first formed New West and I had to call Raul, our guitarist and ask him some sequences. I got them. I worked on them. I learned to love them and I became a changed person. It affected my life. It changed my life. It made me push the envelope. Got me out of my comfort zone. It changed what we did as a group and it changed our sound. I’m better for it. I love him for it. Thirst after new ideas and improvements and criticism. Welcome it all!
Don’t get discouraged when not invited (rejected). Elko only has room for 33 poets and 24 musicians. It just tears me up to reject so many (200-250) applicants) when I know there are many who are even better than the ones we’ve selected. Sometimes the audition tapes simply don’t show the real poet because I’d heard them and they’re much better than their tape, yet that’s all the committee can go on. We try to have at least one on the committee who is a musician, one poet, and one folklorist. When you only have less than 4 minutes allocated to hear the tape and make the decision, it’s very hard.
Be nice to everyone. Be nice to the programmer. Be nice everywhere. Be nice to the selection committee. (“Santa Claus is watching,” said Wally.) The guy who calls the WFLC and rips us apart for not selecting him for the last 4 or 5 years and is an unpleasant character, there is no way he will ever be chosen with an attitude like that. We couldn’t do it. We wouldn’t do it. ―Sally Haueter
Brace yourself and don’t expect much. Paul quoted Jim Shoulders, an All-American Rodeo Champ for 6 years, “I’d rather have just a little bit o’ luck than all the talent in the world.” Course it takes a lot o’ work to earn that little bit o’ luck. “…Takes a lotta work to be lucky like that.”
“Passion is the foundation of it all.” Paul said, “I got my experience riding bulls, and I’m sort of looked at as inexperienced in the Cowboy end of things. There’s this idea as though a rodeo cowboy isn’t a real cowboy. (Wally rolls eyes and nods head vigorously!) But I’ve always loved words. I have a passion for words, to make them work right and to make them do something to stir things up and get excited about.” You have to find what you are passionate about and then make that fit into the rest meaningfully. It has to be honest or the audience will read right through you.
He told of a fellow from
, who came to the Gathering just to be here for about 6 years. “I heard him in the open mike and jam sessions and talked to him in the breaks. He wasn’t big and loud and super-funny and boisterous and all, but just had a bunch of good sincere down-home stuff and I said to myself, this fellow’s going to be big sometime. He’s got what it takes. Well, one year he was finally invited and got up on the big stage here, but he tried to impersonate Baxter Black. It wasn’t him. Everything he did and said bombed miserably! He was terrible. And I’ve never seen him since. I feel bad for him because he was really good—he just didn’t bring what he’d brought before and was outside of who he was, which was a really, really good poet. You’ve got to be the honest you.” Texas
“If you’re not a cowboy, there is hope,” he said, “because you’ve got a perspective we don’t have. We don’t know what it’s like to not be one. You can work with that. There’s wit in that. That’s what writers do. They watch. They observe. They pay attention. But you can’t cover up what you are. Or what you aren’t. Find your honest self and make that worth something. If you are honest with yourself, you’ll find your voice.”
“I think there’s a lot of truth in what Paul said,” said Glenn Orhlin. “I used to sing like Frank Sinatra. I sang a song in a saloon years ago and after the song two sheepherders went out and shot themselves. I sang, There’ll Never be Another Ewe.”
If you hope to make it big, brace yourself. Be ready. It’s 99% rejection. You must become comfortable with that because that’s simply the way it is. You’ve got to have a 10 year, even 20 year plan! And you’ve got to come up with passion like you’ve never known and lots of it and you’ve got to have long-term persistence and simply stick with it. ―Wiley Gustafson
Wally said, “Now me, I cheat! I’m a performer. I was that way when I was young and my mom and dad saw that in me and guided me to take all the performing classes and be in school plays and drama and theatre and I’ve probably been in 70 plays and acted and all, and I cheat! I’ve grown up in it.” The implication is that somehow you’ve got to get that much experience and Wally, tongue in cheek, calls it cheating. But it’s not cheating. You just do what you have to do to be a desirable performer. So you must do as he did. Pay the price to learn the talent, whatever it takes. “Cheat!” Earn the skills.
I’ve found that to find good “original” content, keep a journal of notes and ideas of potential subjects. I always come away from gatherings with a wealth of “Poem Ideas.” Certainly much of the pre-poem chatter at the Gatherings are “comin’ out here this year, a certain thing happened” jokes. And inserted there is a year full of meticulously written-down (or remembered) jokes and quips collected from the last years “paying attention.” If you’ve got a good memory for things like that, you’ve got the edge, but some have to memorize those things just like they would a poem. Or memorize a list of key words by category or usage, to remind you of the jokes.
“I became happy when I started writing for myself and those close around me.”
“…as long as you’re having fun. Just enjoy it.”
If you don’t have a “gathering” close to where you live, start one of your own, someone suggested. All gatherings start out small. Even in someone’s living room. If you can attract a small audience, you can perfect your act and keep tweaking it until your audience grows and you (and your talent) can grow with you. You expand your audience and your draw by being a more interesting and entertaining person. And if you are, they’ll find you. “Build it (your appeal) and they will come.” Zarzyski called it “crowd-founded.”
“The gift of writing isn’t a gift you keep. It’s like love. You give it away.”
“Spur the Word.” Was a college class someone set up and became very popular. Set up a Cowboy Poetry writing evening in your community. Teach what you do and how you do it. Reserve a room at the local library and put a few posters at grocery store bulletin boards, etc. Word will get out if you are able to do it regularly such as monthly. Start your own informal Cowboy Poetry chapter or a formal one of your own state’s organization if you have one. Make it a workshop and learn from others who will surely gravitate to what you’ve started. Critique each others work constructively. You’ll find your group. “They’re there, you just can’t see ‘em from the road.” ―Baxter Black The internet also offers potential this way, chat rooms, etc. ―Wally McRae Of course, see Cowboy Poetry.com!
“Why does Cowboy Poetry get all the fame?” someone asked. “There are train poems, Harley poems, sports poems, mining poems, all kinds of segments of society have had their poetry.” “The reason cowboy poetry is such a popular genre,” said Sally, “is because of a folklorist!” Wally said the difference is that we’ve got language and costuming.
Here’s one idea that applies to any goal you may have. Obviously you have to know something well in order to do it well. But you have to really know something well in order to teach it. Therefore to make it big, you have to really know how, therefore, determine to write yourself a book. Title it How to Make It Big in Cowboy Poetry. Think seriously about what chapter titles should be. Outline them, then write each chapter. This will help you determine exactly what you think is important and how you will do it. Chapter titles could be such as:
How to Memorize - Memory Techniques
How to Write a Poem
How to Get on the Program
How to Become an Interesting Cowboy Poet
How to Tell a Story
Basics of Playing the Guitar
How to Write and Market a Cowboy Poetry Book
How to Look the Part
Photos, Recordings, Books and Website
How to Promote Your Name
Dealing with Promoters
How to Remember and Use Quips and Jokes
What Makes Something Funny?
How to Create Emotion
Don’t steal someone else’s time
How to Introduce Your Poems and When Not to
How to Help Others Make It Big
How to Teach a Cowboy Poetry Class, etc.
What chapters have I left out? Fill in the blanks. Become obsessed with writing such a book and by the time you’ve completed it you’ll find yourself having made good progress yourself.
Finally, let me summarize some ideas from Michael Fleming’s handout titled
So You Wanna Be a Cowboy Star―A Survival Kit for Performer Submissions
Write up 3 bios (with high quality color photos―pay the price and get good ones):
A one pager which could be edited to fit their venue
A second shorter one (50-100 words) usable as a press release or in program books
An even short one for a show program. List where you’ve performed.
A “quotes” or sales pitch page should be separate and should inform quickly and succinctly.
Your press kit should be available electronically as well as in “hard copy.” Electronic photo should be 4”x5” or 4” x 6” at 300 dpi./tif. file or jpg. file.
Have a good quality 3 song or poem demo if you don’t have a CD. Having produced a CD (however expensive) is a statement to a promoter or presenter that you’re serious about your craft.
Think electronically. An e-mail account is a must. Also, get a website – clean, simple and user-friendly with all your bio material for others to download or copy. Make photo files a manageable downloading size. Set up as many links as possible to make you easy to find.
Dealing with promoters/presenters: Be friendly no matter the apparent neglect, leave your phone number with each contact for ease in responding, find “the right person” to talk to, size up their personality and respond accordingly (no-nonsense type vs. small talk type, etc.). Following your gig, express thanks liberally to all involved. Don’t be critical and never take a rejection personally. You don’t know all the factors. Work hard, perfect your craft and don’t give up.
And there you go. Good luck and I hope you DO “get the time” to do it! Why shoot! Maybe you and I will be on a panel someday, titled “So You Wanna…”
© 2005, Doug Brewer
John Tierney submitted the following article:
The Gathering Within
By all indications the twenty-first annual National Poetry Gathering in Elko
was a success. Despite poor weather restricting travel, the town was full of cowboy-clad guests and entertainers while all of the hotels, restaurants and performance were sold out or stuffed to capacity; this included a venue making its first mark in the annual gathering of poets and musicians. Across the street from the Folklife Center sits the Duncan Littlecreek Gallery, formerly the Old Clifton Hotel and Bar, where the only open microphone sat ready to host some of the hottest talent in town. Nevada
With the usual jam session on the second floor of the Stockman’s Hotel and Casino under going some changes, artists such as Pat Richardson, Chris Isaac, Steve Blanchard, Jim Bone’, Jim Brooks and Jerry Hall and Trick Shot sought other sources for directing their talents; the Duncan Littlecreek Gallery filled the bill. The open session was hosted by Elko favorite Desert Breeze featuring “Nevada” Billy Rose, Doc Quam, Debbie Marino and John Tierney (www.desertbreezenv.com) The sessions ran from Thursday through Saturday and, thanks to John Hunt at KRJC and Lori Gilbert at KELK, it quickly became a “hot spot” for entertainers and audiences alike. With the room packed and the music and poetry flowing through the evening, this free venue became one of the biggest hits of the gathering.
After playing public schools and youth centers throughout town on Thursday, Desert Breeze opened the proceedings with a mix of their original and traditional songs. The audience response was warm and got warmer as Steve Blanchard, Jim Bone’, and Jim Brooks took the mike later in the evening. Desert Breeze, who backed Jim Brooks in his Tuesday night performance at the
, finished off the evening, but this was just the start of a busy weekend. Folklife Center
By Friday word began to circulate throughout the artist community. By the time Friday night rolled around the gallery was packed with some of the biggest performers from the formal gathering. Jerry Hall and Trick Shot, from
Porterville California, warmed up the evening, then Desert Breeze took the crowd through cowboy travels. Throughout the evening other performers like Pete and “Fiddlin” Jenny, from Truckee California, The Bobby Kingston Band and Al Bruno, from Las Vegas, kept the crowd hopping. Even Alice Hancock graced the room providing inspiration and support. The evening reached a boiling point when players from Desert Breeze and Trick Shot were joined by Steve Blanchard and Al Bruno for a final jam session of traditional western songs. With Friday night completed, the stage was set for a hot time in old Elko on Saturday night.
Come Saturday all of the previously mentioned artist arrived early to play and entertain each other. As the evening got going Chris Isaacs stepped up and entertained the crowd on his way to his performance for the formal gathering. Pat Richardson followed and had the crowd in stitches with his humorous, yet insightful poetry. The crowd grew as the evening unfolded. Once again Jim Brooks and Jim Bone’ spun their magic. By the time it was over there was nothing but smiles on everyone in the place.
The annual gathering of cowboy poets was truly a success in Elko, but one of the brightest spots had to be the Duncan Littlecreek Gallery. The people who showed up to entertain came to Elko without an invite and received the response of their lives. The audiences who showed were treated to some of the best entertainment the gathering had to offer and the artists were not only close enough to reach out and touch, they were close enough to sit down and talk with. If there was one venue where everyone was touched from the ear to the heart, it was the old bar, now art gallery/bar, across from the
Folklife Center; next year it will be even better. It will once again be the gathering within the gathering.
© 2005, John Tierney
This is page four of our report on the Western Folklife Center's 21st National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
See the first page here.
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