This weekend The Western Folklife Center is hosting the 26th Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. Each year, according to the WFC, the Gathering brings together "thousands of cowboys and cowgirls, poets and musicians, artisans and scholars, rural people and city folks."
Starting on the evening of Wednesday, January 28th, the WFC will offer a cybercast of the festivities. There is also a very interesting Gathering Blog that offers a behind-the-scenes look at how such a festival comes together. If that's not enough, there's an feast of podcasts from Ranch Rhymes: Cowboy Poetry and Music from the Western Folklife Center. Here's Hal Canon, the Founding Director, describing the genesis of this particular gathering
Some people say the Cowboy Poetry Gathering was born in January 1985. Now called the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, it was decreed thus by the U.S. Senate and all the crown heads of Europe. However, most people just call it "Elko." When it started, people described it as a parting of the sea, a gathering of tribes, a "Class A" drunk in a long series of various-classed drunks. Some journalists say it's the most honest and open-hearted festival in America. Ranchers say these few days contain the highest concentration of lies in any one place at any one time. Twenty years ago, Glamour Magazine said it was one of the best ten places in America for a woman to find a real catch. All of this makes a sensible person wonder.
Mr. Canon also explains that such gatherings have taken place in Elko for many decades preceding the week-long celebration he organizes. Yet, in an essay also attached to the above link, he recounts the initial impetus for this current incarnation, and the massive amount of individual and community energy that went into getting the Gathering off the ground. Their work looked to reclaim a segment of their regional culture:
When the idea for the Cowboy Poetry Gathering came up in the late 1970's the cowboy image was at a low point. Hollywood had pretty much stopped making cowboy movies. Nashville had dropped the western out of country and western. And all sorts of new meaning had been pumped into the word "cowboy."
Time spent wandering through the Gathering's store of online sources will surely stand as a testament to the success of this community's vision--and to a tradition of "cowboy" arts that are still very much alive. I'm particularly interested in the Gathering's efforts this year to connect western cowboy culture with its related strains in the American Southeast:
For the 26th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering the Western Folklife Center is pleased to present Seminole and “Cracker” cowboys from Florida and swamp cowboys from Louisiana. Cattle ranching is one of Florida's oldest and most important cultural and occupational activities, beginning when Spanish explorers introduced horses and cattle to the region in the 16th century. Louisiana’s cattle business has flourished since the mid-18th century. In their part of the country they say “anyone can herd cows on dry land!” Our guests will include poets, storytellers, cooks, Creole zydeco musicians, craftspeople and Seminole Indian cowboys.
Among this list is Geno Delafose & French Rockin' Boogie, whose latest release has been nominated for a Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Grammy, as well as Nick Spitzer (see the post regarding Zydeco: Creole Music and Culture in Rural Lousiana from last week). Let's hope that some of these performances make their way online in the coming weeks. Until then, those of us who haven't been lucky enough to attend have a whole host of aural and visual treats to enjoy on the Western Folklife Center site.