Heber City (Utah) November
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12th Annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Buckaroo Fair Heber City, Utah
Report and photos by Jo Lynne Kirkwood
(Additional report and photos by Doris Daley below)
Heber City has now developed into a major Western Festival, and events begin on Tuesday evening with dinner and a show in the old Midway Town Hall. Years back Midway was the site of the entire festival, and Tom Whitaker, organizer of the event, hasn't forgotten his roots and still holds a kick-off event at the old Town Hall. This year the show featured a steak dinner, and a concert with R. W. Hampton, Jake White, Chris Isaacs, Belinda Gail and Curly Musgrave, and was hosted by Waddie Mitchell.
The fun continued Wednesday with a Horseshow Extravaganza at the Wasatch County Events Center, with guest appearances by Belinda Gail and Curly Musgrave, and the Cowboy Express on the Heber Valley Historic Railroad.
The Cowboy Express is one of the unique attractions of the Heber City Gathering, with performers moving from car to car every fifteen minutes to entertain guests who travel the old time route. On board this year were R. W. Hampton, Eli Barsi, Stampede!, Chris Isaacs, Doris Daley, Jake White, Glenn Ohrlin, Larry Maurice, Brooke Turner
, Carin Mari and Pony Express, Jeff Carson, In Cahoots, and Gary Russell.
We arrived in Heber City Thursday evening, in time to catch vendors still setting up for the Buckaroo Fair and before performances had begun. And I'd better pause right here to tell you about Heber City's Buckaroo Fair. This is far more than the usual room full of vendors one might find at a cowboy gathering. The Buckaroo Fair is an art exhibit, a museum, and a saddlery all rolled into one - with plenty of quality clothing, handmade hats, and souvenirs savailable too. This year we shopped booths from JW Hats, Wasatch Mt. Cowboy Traders, Sawtooth Saddle Co., Antique Tack, Artist of the Old West, Rocky Mountain Leather, Winnatou Trading, Thompson Saddler, Qual Run Outfitters, Sonoma Mt. Pack Station, Uinta Saddle, Clyde Ewards, Brent Flory, Dick Hughes, Kelly Donovan, IFA Country Stores, Redmond Real Salt, Sharon Rino, Maple Canyon Outfitters, Mountain Men Traders, Water from the Moon, Santa Fe Design, Reams Boots & Jeans, John Cornelison, Walker Custom Boots, Lowry Custon Bear Carving, High Ute Ranch, D.R. Griffith, Beverly Conrad Art, and Capriolas from Elko.
But we were there for all the main events at Wasatch High School, too; and man, what a ride! Right away we ran into old friends such as Brooke Turner, Chris Issacs and Jeff Carson, and even before we'd checked into our motel we were head over heels into having a wonderful time. We caught R. W. Hampton, Rich and Valerie O'Brien and Eli Barsi on early shows, then had tickets for Michael Martin Murphey with the BYU Symphony—and we were surely glad we did because the show was sold out. The concert was amazing. Not only did Murphey perform the standard lyrical ballads that one might associate with symphonic music, such as his haunting rendition of "Streets of Laredo," but who would have ever known that Gail I. Gardner's "The Sierry Petes " would fit so well into a full orchestra? The show included special appearances by Glenn Ohrlin, the delightful young Carin Mari and Pony Express, and that icon in the world of cowboy poetry, Colen Sweeten.
Jeff Carson and Kenny Hall
While Murphey played on the main stage, the Sons of the San Joaquin turned out to be the unlisted "surprise" performers on the Cow Camp Stage, so folks who came for the Thursday shows did have their plates full—with plenty besides Eddy Dean's famous barbeque! Other talented performers on the two continuous stages included In Cahoots, Gary Russell, Belinda Gail and Curly Musgrave, Rich and Valerie O'Brien, Eli Barsi, Doris Daley, Stampede!, Jake White and Bill Barwick.
On Friday we had the joy of chuckling our way through Glenn Ohrlin's mischief, tapping our feet to traditional songs performed by Open Range, and sitting back in delight to enjoy the rich baritone voice of Richard Espinoza. The Red Rock Wranglers made an appearance on Friday, as did Brenn Hill. R. W. Hampton performed with Curly Musgrave and Belinda Gail, Cow Bop, and Jeff Carson on the main stage at two pm, hosted (as are all the main stage shows in Heber City) by the immutable and entertaining Waddie Mitchell. The Sons of the San Joaquin, Eli Barsi, Rich O'Brien, and Chris Isaacs made up the main concert at three that afternoon.
This was the day that the Utah Poets were scheduled for the Sagebrush Stage, and I spent much of the afternoon in that part of the building. Before the show the stage hosted the antics of an amazing group of Mountain Men musicians, Dr. Mongo, then Kenny Hall played cowboy music to introduce the Utah sessions. At four PM, Jerry "Brooksie" Brooks, CR Wood, Fred Engel and Jeff Coates took the stage, and proved conclusively that Utah boasts as fine Cowboy Poets as can be found anywhere in the west. The second session featured Utah youth poets Braden, Caib and Aubree Brian, Curtis Probert, Kate Murdock, and Swasey Bliss.
As usual, the kids stole the show and we were proud to have it happen. The future of cowboy poetry is secure in Utah, so long as we have talented youngsters like these to take the reins. The third session featured Paul Bliss, Michael Robinson, Phil Kennington, and Jo Lynne Kirkwood, and what had started out as a great afternoon of poetry just kept getting better. Kenny Hall took the stage one more time to wrap things up, and the set closed at six-forty-five with a room filled with folks eager to hear more.
Utah Poets Fred Engle and Jerry (Brooksie) Brooks
Michael and I attended the Ian Tyson concert that evening, hosted by Waddie. Talented Brenn Hill opened the show and Larry Maurice also made an appearance. The show was amazing, with Ian saving old favorites (...there's a phone booth in Paradise. Wow. Gotta be one of my favorites lines.) for curtain calls, but the unexpected delight of the evening was the dance that followed; or rather, the dance band for the dance that followed! Pinto Pammy of Cow Bop has that smoky barroom voice of old-time torch singers, and combined with the deep bass voice and bass fiddle of David Jackson (formerly of New West) plus the incredible musicianship of guitarist Bruce Forman, violinist Richard Chon, and Mike McKinley on drums, this group is pure gold. I left with a CD, and I've played it almost non-stop since.
Saturday at Heber City was the day folks will remember best. I'll make a prediction that years from now when performers meet the topic of "where were you when the lights went out .?" will creep in. I'm not sure what happened, but the word transformer was bandied about. Luckily lanterns had been placed on the tables in the Commons—where huge windows made it still possible to see—and since some of the lanterns came with candles or kerosene we confiscated a few, and used them as needed.
In the green room Joe Hannah (Sons of the San Joaquin) wrote play lists by lantern light, while musicians softly strummed guitars or played violins for ambiance.
Joe Hannah during the power outage
On the main stage, in the auditorium (which again was sold out) emergency generators kicked in and the Bar J Wranglers continued their performances in a hazy concert hall reminiscent of old gas light theaters. But the real heroes of the hour were the performers on the smaller stages. They maintained their professionalism and kept on entertaining without sound or lights. Rich and Valerie O'Brien played in the Commons, acoustically, and the audience was thrilled. On the Cow Camp Stage, which was inside a gymnasium without windows, someone thought to open the outside exit doors and allowed a dim light to filter in. Eli Barsi moved down into the audience and folks joined in with her singing old favorites such as "Red River Valley." When the lights kicked back on everybody gave a big sigh, but whether it was of relief or disappointment I'm not entirely sure.
Eli Barsi plays during the outage
Other performers who joined the shows on the two continuous stages Saturday were Don Kennington, Jerry Brooks, and Judge David Young.
Mike Kirkwood, RW Hampton, Red Steagall
Red Steagall's concert came mid-afternoon, with Brenn Hill, Bill Barwick and Rich O'Brien, and the Bar J Wranglers played a second show at seven with Curly Musgrave and Belinda Gail, and Doris Daley. As always, Waddie Mitchell hosted the concerts, and shared poems as he saw fit. There was a jam session that night at the Claim Jumper, then the gathering concluded with Cowboy Church at three on Sunday.
The mountain man encampment at the front of the building is almost an event unto itself, and the vendors at the Buckaroo Fair rival those of any gathering. Every year Heber City's gathering is a little bigger and a little better than the year before, and with plans now in the works for the construction of a new facility we can look forward to a bright future for this important festival.
The Whitakers, with Michael Martin Murphey
Organizers Tom and Linda Whitaker really understand what it takes to make things happen, and with generous sponsors like Zion's Bank, KSL TV and Radio, Redmond Salt, IFA, Qwest, KSOP Radio, Utah Power, Reams, Heber Ranch and Farm, Wave Printing, and Timpressions -- and a support crew of dozens - most especially Brent and Mary Kelly, Gary and Brenda Carlile, Ted and Chris Caldwell, Barry and Lorie Hobbs, Scott and Bell Rhees, Lindsay Tanner, Doug and Diane Pope, Jim Hicks, Richard and Lynnie Espinoza, Ken McConnell and GayLyn Latimer, Susy Epperson, Mike Thurber, Suzanne Mair, Chief Ed Rhoades, Allan Sulser, Luwanna Phillips, John Mendenhall, Tennessee John, and Tim Tanner just to mention a few—all the elements are in place to keep Heber City a focal point for cowboy entertainment. Thanks, Tom—and Heber City— once again for a top notch event.
12th Annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Buckaroo Fair Heber City, Utah
Report by Doris Daley
There was poetry on stage, on horseback, on the rails, and on TV. There was poetry coming around the mountain and poetry backed up by the symphony. Poetry with the power on and poetry with the power out. Welcome to Heber
City, Utah's 2006 Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Buckaroo Fair!
A Who's Who of cowboy singers, pickers and poets joined host Waddie Mitchell in the Wasatch Mountains above Salt Lake City Nov 7-12 for the 12th annual Heber Cowboy Poetry and Buckaroo Fair. The Heber Gathering boasts several elements that make it unique from other shows, including a two-hour train show on the historic "Heber Creeper" railroad, a Mountain Man trader's camp, and a spectacular Horse Extravaganza billed (rightly so) as "an evening of poetry in motion expressed live with horses and music." Sell-out crowds were the norm at all events including the theatre shows held in the soft-seat auditorium at the Wasatch High School.
Belinda Gail and Eli Barsi
Throughout the five-day event, fans were treated to feature shows by headliners who literally came from the far-flung corners of the west. Texas, Kansas, Arizona, California, Alberta, New Mexico, Arkansas, Missouri, Wyoming and yes, Utah, were well represented by this year's roster of featured performers. Singers R. W. Hampton, Belinda Gail and Curly Musgrave were joined by poets Jake White and Chris Isaacs to kick off the show at a Tuesday night steak dinner. Joining them on Wednesday night for a rollicking clickety-clack good time on the train ride were Eli Barsi, Stampede!, Doris Daley, Glenn Ohrlin, Larry Maurice, Brooke Turner, Carin Mari and Pony Express, Jeff Carson and In Cahoots. (Editorial comment from your Heber City scribe and correspondent: "In the Misty Moonlight" never sounded so good as when crooned by R. W. Hampton in Car #4 with a full Utah moon suspended above the mountains in the dark purple night.)
R. W. Hampton
Folks had more than their money's worth right there-and it was only Wednesday night! Still to come: Ian Tyson, the Bar J Wranglers, The Sons of the San Joaquin, Michael Martin Murphey, Red Steagall, Brenn Hill and a Friday night cowboy stomp to the cool swinging cowboy music of Cow Bop. Just when you're thinking it can't possibly get any better, add these names to the line-up: Rich and Valerie O'Brien, Stampede!, Red Rock Wranglers, In Cahoots, Bill Barwick, Gary Russell, Richard Espinoza and Open Range. Utah favorites Colen Sweeten, Jeff Carson, Don Kennington, Judge David Young (too bad his name wasn't Roy Bean), Phil Kennington, CR Wood, Fred Engle, Michael Robinson, Jo Lynne Kirkwood, Curly Syndergaard, Paul Bliss, Kenny Hall, and AWA award winner Jerry "Brooksie" Brooks treated crowds to more excellent cowboy poetry. The irrepressible and hard-working Waddie Mitchell is the glue that holds the whole festival together, charming the crowds with his peerless writing and delivery, and serving as affable host for every main stage performance.
Three stages operate simultaneously at the Wasatch High School when the festival kicks into high gear on Friday and Saturday. For the price of a $10 cover charge, fans can stay put in front of the Cow Camp stage and enjoy continuous cowboy entertainment as poets and musicians rotate through in 15-20 minute sets. Meanwhile, over at the Chuckwagon Stage, famous Texas Eddie Deen barbeque tastes even better when washed down with the toe-tapping, yodeling, hot-licking talents of more live cowboy music. Ticketed matinee and evening performances take place under the same roof, just a short walk through the trade fair to the school auditorium.
Other embellishments that give the Heber Gathering its own flavor: A fun and rip-snorting live auction precedes every feature show (and has the spin-off effect of getting the audience organized and in their seats for show time.) Want a terrific souvenir? Buy a compilation cowboy poetry CD featuring this year's poets and musicians, or a professionally produced DVD featuring last year's artists. An unexpected memory-maker: the 2006 gathering will be remembered as "The year the lights went out in Heber." What would you do if the power went out all over town during a live show? Why cowboy up, of course, which is exactly what the Bar J Wranglers did in one theatre and Eli Barsi and Doug Pope did in another. The show must go on, and we all found out that a sing-along version of "Red River Valley" sounds just fine in the dark.
No cowboy gathering would exist if it weren't for volunteers, and Heber City is no exception. Some of the friendliest and hardest working volunteers in the west are at work all year long, and certainly during the festival, to make this event one of the best in the west.
RW Hampton and Doris Daley
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