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"My ceiling the sky, my carpet the grass,
My music the lowing of herds as they pass;
My books are the brooks, my sermons the stones,
My parson's a wolf on a pulpit of bones."
    "The Cowboy Soliloquy" by Alan McCanless

Why the Cowboy Sings is a journey across the open West, to find out why cowboys make music and why they need to tell their stories. The cowboy's job has always been low paying, dangerous, lonely, cold, hot, dusty, smelly, and gory.  So why do they sing? Maybe a better question is, why don't astronauts sing? Why don't taxi drivers have their own music? Or why aren't there accountant, or schoolteacher, or golf pro songs?

Hal Cannon has been chasing this question for thirty years. He's a founder of the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada and has played cowboy music since the early 70s. In this journey he travels to four ranches, in the middle of winter, the time when cowboys have time to sing.

Larry and Toni Schutte live on a remote ranch on Nevada's sagebrush ocean. Their songs reverberate with faith and spirituality. Glenn Ohrlin ranches in the hills of Arkansas and is thought to be the greatest traditional cowboy singer alive. Henry Real Bird is a Crow Indian cowboy who says that today's cowboys are being squeezed-out just as Indians were in the last centuries. Songwriter Stephanie Davis escaped Nashville and is now confronting the dichotomy of a rancher who used the popular cowboy myth to buy back the
authentic life.

View the latest information at the producers' web site here



Viewers' Comments

About the Producers/Directors

Order Information and More

CowboyPoetry.com editor Margo Metegrano saw the film at the 2002 Kanab, Utah Western Legends Roundup and Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and wrote, in part, "The lyrical introduction lets you in on the deep roots of Hal Cannon's love for Cowboy music, gives a glimpse of him performing that music, and includes some footage of the earliest National Cowboy Poetry Gathering at Elko, Nevada. As more contemporary shots of some of the Elko stars are shown -- such as Linda Hussa, Paul Zarzyski, and Wallace McRae -- Hal Cannon asks Waddie Mitchell: "Why does the cowboy sing?"  Waddie responds: "Why does a frog croak?" The film blossoms to show the profundity underlying the humor of that response. The in-depth pieces with the featured subjects shed some light on why the cowboy sings, but perhaps even more importantly, they show an authentic portrait of the people of the real West."

Hal Cannon chats with the audience after the video showing
in Kanab
photo by Lloyd Shelby



Viewers' Comments

"Why the Cowboy Sings is poetry itself."
            Anne Collier, publisher netfamilynews.org

"From the very beginning, you let the people come through without the slightest hint of irony or judgment. I like that you've chosen to show people who love what they do, who've made peace with their pasts or are trying to, people who seem grateful and open-hearted."
            Judith Freeman, writer

"I loved the people, the landscape, the ease of it -- but mostly the rhythm, the flow.  It felt like the land and all that moves on it was spiraling up through the people and coming out in sounds, words and music, coming out in chiming air, in breath.  Sing on, cowboys!  Let there be no end to music, to breathing the world and ourselves in it."
           Sherry Kafka Wagner, arts consultant

"Apropos the video's title, the big theme for me is a classical one -- the Muse.  How is inspiration courted?  The answer for Larry and Glenn is very different: Glenn's existentialism to Larry's enfoldment in the arms of God. Then Henry and Stephanie: Henry channeling like the beat poets (America's own) to Stephanie's careful crafting."
            Dudley Cocke, director Roadside Theater

"An amazing community of people you've helped come together out there! Each cowboy and cowgirl had such a different (all of them intriguing) story to tell. You really captured a very special essence of sincerity and devotion with each of them."
            Julie Shapiro, producer, Third Coast Audio Festival

"Your genuine affection for folks and relationships with them brings all the rest of us closer-- closer to these individuals and to the meaning of this music and to their insights about the land and ways of choosing to live a life."
            Deborah Kodesh, director, Philadelphia Folklore Project

Strong, beautiful, lyrical, evocative, and you have given us miraculous things to see, feel,  and think about--and to appreciate -
            Martha Banyos - writer/artist

"Why the Cowboy Sings gets into the soul of what it means to be a Westerner, even for those of us who have degenerated into that oxymoronic caricature called an urban cowboy."
           Narrvel Hall- urban cowboy



About the Producers/Directors

Hal Cannon and Taki Telonidis 
Co-producers/directors "Why the Cowboy Sings"


Hal Cannon and Taki Telonidis in Nevada
photo courtesy Hal Cannon, October, 2002

Together, Taki Telonidis and Hal Cannon have created more than 40 radio features about life in the American West over the past four years.  Their work airs regularly on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition Sunday and on Public Radio International's Marketplace and Savvy Traveler. Their first video documentary, "Why the Cowboy Sings," premiered in January 2002 as a signature event of the Salt Lake City Olympics. It has been awarded a Rocky Mountain Emmy and a Gold Special Jury Award at the Houston Film Festival. Working with the Western Folklife Center, Hal and Taki record the rare and endangered stories of the American West, creating a lasting sound and video archive. Currently, they are supported by the R. Harold Burton Foundation, and the George and Dolores Dor'e Eccles Foundation among others.

halc.JPG (3906 bytes)   Hal Cannon is the founding Director of the Western Folklife Center and its famous child, the Cowboy Poetry Gathering.  He has published a dozen books and recordings on the folk arts of the West. Awards include a bronze medal at the New York International Radio Festival, three Wrangler Awards from the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, the 1998 Will Rogers Lifetime Achievement Award, the Utah Governors Award in both the Arts and Humanities, and the Botkin Award from the American Folklore Society.

Taki Telonidis has been media producer for the Western Folklife Center since August of 1998. With leaders of the Zuni Indian tribe of New Mexico, he recently produced a CD featuring traditional music and storytelling, the first-ever compilation of its kind. Telonidis came to the West from National Public Radio in Washington DC, where between 1994 and 1998 he was Senior Producer of Weekend All Things Considered.  In 1995 the show was awarded the Overseas Press Club Award for Breaking News. Telonidis has received the
Corporation for Public Broadcasting Gold and Silver Awards.

Order Information and More

  You can order Why the Cowboy Sings from Hal Cannon's FieldnotesWest site or from the Western Folklife Center.

Read more about this video that comes from the Western Folklife Center in conjunction with KUED TV.  The KUED site site includes a version of the script of the television production and additional information.



  Released at the Western Folklife Center's 2007 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Songs from Why the Cowboy Sings includes the entire soundtrack from their Emmy Award-winning documentary/

The Songs from Why the Cowboy Sings CD includes 16 tracks:

 1. "Prairie in the Sky," Tom Russell (Mary McCaslin)
 2. "La Primera," Larry Schutte (Ian Tyson)
 3. "Ten Pretty Girls," Western Folklife Center String Band (traditional)
 4. "Git Along Little Dogies," Buck Ramsey (traditional)
 5. "Whoopie Ti-Yi-Yo, Get Along Little Dogies," Woodie Guthrie and Cisco Huston (traditional)
 6. "As I Went Walking One Morning for Pleasure," Harry Jackson (traditional)
 7. "A Prisoner for Life," Skip Gorman (traditional)
 8. "There's Music in the Air, Way Out West" Sourdough Slim (Richard Crowder)
 9. "Elko Blues," Ian Tyson
10. "Nighttime in Nevada," Larry Schutte (Pascoe, Dulmage and Clint)
11. "Morning Grub Holler," Harry Jackson
12. "I'm From the Wolf Teeth Mountains," Henry Real Bird
13. "Wyoming Home" Deseret String Band (traditional)
14. "Beautiful Utah," Myron Crandall
15. "Nevada," Riata Brown
16. "Prairie Lullaby," Stephanie Davis

The Songs from Why the Cowboy Sings CD is available for $15 plus postage from the Western Folklife Center Gift Shop.







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