Cowboy Poetry and Western Life

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Prescott (Arizona) August

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August, 2007
20th Annual Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering  Prescott, Arizona 

story by William Merritt with photos by Lori Faith Merritt

Additional commentary and photos by Andrea McWhorter Waitley, Susan Parker, Paulette Tcherkassky, and Jo Lynne Kirkwood  on page two here.

The 20th Annual Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering was held August 16-18, 2007 in Prescott, Arizona. Once again, the gathering was in beautiful downtown Prescott at the historic Sharlot Hall Museum with evening shows at the Yavapai College Performance Center. The gathering is home of the Gail I. Gardner Award for a Working Cowboy Poet and attracts not only poets and musicians of distinctive western heritage but also artists that celebrate and commemorate the life of the working cowboy.

Aside from the evening’s main performances, the buildings of the Sharlot Hall Museum grounds and the neighboring United Methodist church provided venues for the many performers. The gathering teemed with smiling faces. Individuals, small groups and families enjoyed the perfect weather and the hospitality of the Sharlot Hall Museum’s association. It is because of the many generous sponsors, volunteers, and a dedicated, hardworking staff that such an event was so easy for everyone to enjoy.

The first night’s event of grand cowboy entertainment, hosted by Tom Weathers, included Don Edwards, Vess Quinlan, Jerry "Brooksie" Brooks, Mike Dunn, Marge Tucker and other special guests.

photo by Lori Faith Merritt
Don Edwards

Vess Quinlan presented Marge Tucker with the Gail I. Gardner Award. She is the 16th recipient of this award. A resident of Arizona since 1934, she worked on ranches until 2003. Marge started writing poetry in the third grade. Ms. Tucker has a fine group of young people following in her boot-steps; also honored were the fourth grade Cowboy Poetry Winners from local Prescott Schools.

photo by Lori Faith Merritt
Byrd Woodward

Throughout the days that followed, hour long themed session with titles such as, “Ridin’ Drag,” “Cowboy Songs,” “Ranch Families,” “Laugh A Lot,” “Desert Harmony,” “Fresh Horses,” “Gals Only,” and “Yodeling,” helped the attendees find something that interested them. Typically, these sessions of music or poetry were happening at eight different locations simultaneously with about three scheduled performers per session. That is a lot of music and poetry! Given the caliber of talent at the gathering, anywhere you landed was a great place to be.

photo by Lori Faith Merritt
Gary and Jean Prescott

One of my favorite memories is from the Yodeling session hosted by Joe Baer. Veteran performers of the Prescott gathering, Jean Prescott and Don Edwards started things off. Mr. Edwards wondered why people think of yodeling when they think of cowboy music! He joked that he is a member of the R.W. Hampton Yodeler’s Support Group (to become yodel-free). After Don Edwards and Jean Prescott charmed everyone, newcomer to the gathering, Bill Snow, Jr. followed with his first performance at this festival…ever! He admitted the pressure was on: How do you follow Jean Prescott and Don Edwards? He definitely rose to the occasion with warmth, humor and superb talent. You would have never known he was “the new kid in town”!


photo by Lori Faith Merritt
Yvonne Hollenbeck

Sally Bates hosted Friday night’s evening performance with performances by Gary and Jean Prescott, Audrey Hankins, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Chris Isaacs, Gail Steiger, Suzi Killman, Cindy Bettis, more poets, and fourth grade Cowboy Poetry winners.

photos by Lori Faith Merritt
Audrey Hankins;  Jim Jones and Audrey Hankins

photo by Lori Faith Merritt
Chris Isaacs

photo by Lori Faith Merritt
Gail Steiger

photo by Lori Faith Merritt
Suzi Kilman

Saturday brought an added venue and four hours of entertainment at the historic 1905 Elks Opera House. There were two main events at the Yavapai College Performance Hall at 5:00 & 8:00 pm. Mary Abbott hosted the matinee show with scheduled performers Roughstring, Jay Snider, Randy Huston, Carole Jarvis.

photo by Lori Faith Merritt
Jay Snider

Randy Rieman hosted the 8:00 pm show with performers The Desert Sons, Kip Calahan, Brenda "Sam" DeLeeuw, Ross Knox, Joel Nelson, Gary Robertson, R. P. Smith and a cameo by the ever kind and generous Don Edwards.

photo by Lori Faith Merritt
Kip Calahan

photo by Lori Faith Merritt
R. P. Smith


photo by Lori Faith Merritt
Sam DeLeeuw

The Desert Sons have been to Prescott for 19 of the gathering’s 20 years with different band formations. This time, however, they surprised the audience with an unprecedented performance by having two previous band members (Skelly Boyd and Slim Tighe) join the current line up (Buck Ryberg, Benny Young, Bill Ganz and Bill Ronstadt) onstage. Besides being a stunning act, it was reminder why they continue to be vanguards of western harmony in the tradition of the Sons of the Pioneers and The Reinsmen.

photo by Lori Faith Merritt
Skelly Boyd

It is difficult to convey the artistic breadth and depth all performers brought to the gathering. The Prescott event prides itself on attracting performers with a hands-on background with ranch life or whose contributions are so significant, that the heart of the west lives within their words and music. All share a love not only of what they do but a graciousness to share it with everyone.

photo by Lori Faith Merritt
Don and Kathy Edwards

To be part of it all next year, mark your calendar because the next Arizona Poets Gathering is August 14-16, 2008. Make sure that you are on the mailing list by calling the Sharlot Hall Museum at 928-445-3122. You can visit the Sharlot Hall Museum at

To view images from this or many other Western Gatherings, visit Lori Faith Merritt’s website at

There were many other scheduled artists that helped make this 20th anniversary a worthwhile and memorable one: Jim Dunham, Bud Strom, Tom Weathers, Randy Huston, Carole Jarvis, Gary Robertson, Max and Neil Abbott, Lon Austin, Joe Baer, Bill Beam, Lee Brimhall, Jerry "Brooksie" Brooks, Don Cadden, Walt “Bimbo” Cheney, Jan Choate Richins, Joette Conley, Dean Cook, Bunny Dryden, Edith Gentry, Frances Wheeler, Kay Kelly, Buckshot Dot, Steve Lindsey, Greg Scott, Abi McWhorter,
Katie McCall Owen, Sue Jones, Jill Jones, Dana Sharp, Everett Long, Jody Drake, Elwyn Robinson, Sid Hausman, Washtub Jerry, Fred Engel, Mike Snow, Jr., Jo Lynne Kirkwood, Byrd, Nika Nordbrock, Deanna McCall, Rusty McCall, Jane Morton, Georgie Sicking, Ray Fitzgerald, and many others.

photo by Lori Faith Merritt



Woody and Byrd Woodward
photo by Jo Lynne Kirkwood

See many additional photos and more commentary on page two here,

photos by Andrea McWhorter Waitley, Susan Parker, Paulette Tcherkassky, and Jo Lynne Kirkwood.

Audrey Hankins' poem, "In Our Blood," is on the back of the 2007 program. Audrey Hankins received the Gail I. Gardner Award for a Working Cowboy Poet.

Inside, the program included a poem by Joan Strom, "The Seldom Seen."

Many additional photos and more commentary on page two here.

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