photograph from a recent Texas Crossroads Cowboy Gathering
By Beth Nobles, Art of the Rural Correspondent
There’s no question about Bob Kinford’s occupation when you meet the founder and organizer of the Texas Crossroads Cowboy Gathering--this is a man who works horses and cattle. Even in the heart of Far West Texas’ Chihuahuan desert, he gets noticed when he enters a room. Sporting a wide-brimmed hat, well-worn cowboy boots, and his neck tied with a wild rag, this cowboy is a horse trainer and a specialist in herd behavior and natural reduced-stress cattle handling; as well as a poet, storyteller, cook, and publisher.
Just as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival developed as an alternative venue in Scotland, Bob Kinford organized the Texas Crossroads Cowboy Gathering three years ago as an option for performers trying to break into the cowboy poetry circuit.
“Cowboy anthologies, stories and poetry are not considered an actual genre by the publishing industry, and gatherings are the only practical way to market the work,” said Bob recently. “It seemed that gatherings I attended kept hiring the same people and were not hiring out of the open mic performers.”
“We are filling a niche for up-and-coming entertainers, as well as those who are trying to expand out to different areas of the country. As far as I know, we are the only gathering that live-streams video of all shows to the internet. This is allowing us to fulfill our goal of getting the genre out to a whole new audience, not just in the United States, but also internationally. The average person has never heard of cowboy poetry or music. Those who have not actually heard it before assume that it is just a bunch of hicks with no talent.”
Now, in anticipation of the Crossroads Cowboy Gathering’s third year (in Van Horn, Texas, February 3-6), Bob has planned outreach events in area schools. For example, “We’ve got 27 performers this year, and all are either currently involved in agriculture or have their roots in it. Many are ranchers or retired ranchers. I would like to make Crossroads not just an entertainment venue, but educational as well,” said Bob. Tiny Valentine, Texas (approximate population 250) “will host Crossroad’s performers Evelyn Roper, Bob Atkins and Tony Argento at their elementary school. They will sing and recite poetry, as well as giving the kids a chance to ask them questions about their art or agriculture.”
As a rural festival organizer, Bob shares some of the same challenges with organizers anywhere, “getting through the politics of having other events hire from our pool of entertainers, and drawing an audience with a very limited budget.” However, this audition venue for aspiring cowboy poets and performers seems to be a survivor. Already, plans are underway for a February 2-5, 2012 Texas Crossroads Cowboy Gathering in Van Horn, Texas.
Information about attending this year’s festival in person or through live-streaming video is available at the Gathering’s website.