Cigar-Box Guitars and Haunted Windchimes

By Katie Aiken

muddybootsrootsrevival-202In October, two musical groups join us at the Western Folklife Center. Both are influenced by American roots music. Both bring an ingenuity and innovation that keeps their sound fresh. And both celebrate the creativity and tradition of making music with family and friends.

On Wednesday, October 26th at 7:00 pm, The Haunted Windchimes play at the G Three Bar Theater – just in time for Halloween. Learn more about them, their Pueblo, CO, beginnings, and their vintage-tinged folk and blues sound here.

This upcoming Saturday, October 22nd, Muddy Boots & the Porch Pounders play the Pioneer Saloon at 7:00 pm. Before they take the stage that evening, Matt Downs (of Muddy Boots) hosts his second annual build-your-own cigar-box guitar workshop at the Western Folklife Center. Matt was kind enough to answer a few questions about the peculiar instrument he has chosen and how (and why) he became obsessed with the cigar-box guitar (from here on out, referred to as the CBG). Be warned: the conversation below is paraphrased… Matt talks fast when talking about his love for the CBG!

Western Folklife Center (WFC): The cigar-box guitar seems like a fairly uncommon instrument, at least around here. How did you first get introduced to the CBG?

Matt Downs (MD): Well, probably the best way to tell it is… I wanted to play guitar as a kid. I took two years of guitar lessons in high school and I learned a lot about the guitar, but I still couldn’t play a lick of it after the two years. In 2009, I had just gotten the internet at home and learned about YouTube. I found a video of a guy playing a CBG and I said, “I think I can do that”… and the very next day, I went to a smoke shop and found a cigar box.


WFC: Did you teach yourself? How did you learn to play?

MD: I didn’t tell anybody that I’d made my first CBG. I made it around Christmas-time and I just wanted to be able to play ONE song at the family Christmas party. There was nobody on YouTube teaching how to play the 3-string CBG, so I had to figure it out for myself. Since I had a different approach than people who play “normally,” it was easier for me (than the guitar lessons had been). Something on the radio would catch my ear and I’d figure out how to play little bits of things until I could piece songs together.

WFC: When did you tell people you were playing the CBG? How did your family react?

MD: I gave away the first CBG I built that Christmas as a white elephant present at a gift exchange. It was kind of a big joke. My life is kind of a series of big jokes, ha. So, my family was expecting something weird. The CBG was a novelty at first. But, I really enjoyed it. The CBG really lends itself to the blues (with its three strings and slide playing). When I first started, I’d tell people, “this is a blues guitar, but I do not have a blue bone in my body.” But, I loved it so much that I started learning, studying blues music, tracing influences back to where the blues started. That’s how I started to understand it and be able to play it. My family probably thinks I’m completely insane, but I’m just having fun!

WFC: What about your band members? How did they react? How did you find people to play with?

3629363MD: Right after I learned how to build a CBG, I decided to do an open mic at a music festival in Ogden to play in front of people. It was a bluegrass festival and I did a terrible job. I had never played standing up before. I had never sung into a microphone! But, everybody was gracious and told me to play something else. I only knew two songs at the time. The whole experience was so encouraging, though, it lit a fire underneath me.

What possessed you to get up on a stage at that point?

MD: Ha! I’ve always been kind of a show-off. From riding motorcycles to yo-yo. (yep, that’s right, yo-yo). And, when I find something I enjoy, I dig in and become a bit obsessive. In fact, I was the yo-yo state champion in Utah when I was younger. I don’t usually put that on my resume. It doesn’t come up in conversation much. (Sorry, Matt, the secret’s out.)

Actually, the jam sessions at the [WFC’s National] Cowboy Poetry Gathering were a major inspiration for me to be able to play with other people. I wanted to do that—to be able to jump in, on the fly, with other musicians and be able not just to follow along, but to actually add something.

I knew that I needed to learn to play with others before I could improve. When I moved to Elko, I put an ad on Craig’s List. Once I told people that I play the CBG, most of them stopped responding. (Luckily, he kept it up and found some like-minded musicians who were open to playing what some might call “weird stuff”one of his current bandmates had even responded to that original Craig’s List ad though they actually met a few years later.)

WFC: How do you describe the style of music that Muddy Boots plays?

MD: That’s always a sticky situation… I’ve sort of coined the term trans-genre music. It’s a little bit of this and little bit of that… roots rock might be the best description. We’re heavily influenced by the blues, folk rock, and roots rock.

WFC: What do you want people to know about the CBG?

MD: It’s really amazing to play an instrument that you made yourself. I used to think instruments were almost magical. Building your own instrument takes a lot of the mystery out of music. I’ve built instruments out of all kinds of things—garbage cans, mailboxes, motorcycle parts. It makes you realize music does not have to be commercialized; music used to be made on your front porch at night, it was homegrown, something you could listen to in your back yard, at home. This is a way of taking music back (out of a commercialized and monetized realm) —you can make whatever style of music you want on any instrument you can make.


The 2015 Cigar Box Guitar class at the Western Folklife Center

Join us on Saturday, October 22 – meet the guys who joined a band led by a cigar-box guitar-playing yo-yo champion. And, maybe you’ll be inspired to demystify the music-making process yourself and strike a tune on the next cigar-box… or coffee can… or haircomb… or spare car part… you stumble across.

Trailing of the Sheep Festival 20 Years Later…

By Diane Josephy Peavey

The Trailing of the Sheep Festival, in Sun Valley, Ketchum and Hailey, Idaho, starts tomorrow, Wednesday, October 5, and runs through October 9. It is a festival that is celebrating its 20th year of preserving the stories and history of sheep ranchers and herders, celebrating the rich cultures of the past and present, and entertaining and educating children and adults about the production of local food and fiber that have sustained local economies for generations. Sheep rancher Diane Peavey and her husband John founded the festival in an effort to help newcomers to the area understand and appreciate its sheep-ranching history. We asked Diane to write a blog for us to share the story of this special event. Enjoy!


This wonderful, appealing, “who ever thought of this” event called The Trailing of the Sheep Festival, which last year hosted over 25,000 people from 36 states and eight foreign countries, turns 20 this year. But its beginnings were unique.

In the early 1990s our family, now five generations working sheep, reached out to newcomers and not-so-newcomers all angered over the sheep droppings on the new community bike path. Our phone rang off the hook. “Get YOUR sheep off OUR bike path. Their droppings are getting caught in my roller blades and bike tires.”

Sad but true. The path was the pride of the county but unbeknownst to most of its citizenry, the bike path would never have become a reality without the support of sheep ranching families because it was to be built on top of the sheep right of way.

“A bike path across our sheep easement? Sure no problem,” sheepmen said. ‘We’re happy to share.”

But it turned out not everyone was as happy to share, especially those recreationists eager to fly down the new bike path that for a brief time each spring and fall was covered with sheep droppings. Oops.

We thought fast and my husband John—always happy to share what he most loves…his ranching life—invited the community to join us for coffee and a little history about sheep ranching at a local café and then follow us to the bike path and help herd the sheep south keeping them off the asphalt trail. That first year 20 people showed up. The following year there were many more and by the fourth year it was a Valley-wide occasion. We were becoming a community of herders. The controversy faded but not the crowds. Then in 1996 we got a call from the Chamber’s dynamic and creative director who got right to the point. “Let’s talk about your sheepherder walks,” she began, “I think we’ve got a festival here.”


That was 20 years ago. Slowly we created a three-pronged program for the second weekend in October, the time of year when we were moving our sheep from summer mountain pastures to desert winter range. First there would be a sheep parade down Main Street Ketchum, Idaho, of 1,500 whirling and dancing ewes. They were greeted with thunderous applause. No reenactment here. This was living history. We’d be moving the sheep with or without an audience.

Then we’d have a Folklife Fair with music, dance and food, shearing and working dogs that celebrated the cultures of the earliest herders—the Scots, the Basques and today the Peruvians.


And for the third event we were all in agreement. We would have a time for telling stories about sheep ranching and the families that have grazed their animals in the hills around Hailey and Ketchum and throughout the West for over 150 years.

This last program has become our most cherished and our lasting legacy, a time when we listen and record the stories of our families and our history. After the crowds have left and the sheep are miles south of town, the stories, the memories, the personal histories, the reminiscences of place and belonging, the conversations of survivability, of sustainability, the insights into our western landscapes remain.

In 2014, the Trailing of the Sheep Festival began a three-year storytelling adventure called “Celebrating Generations.” That year we honored “the Visionaries,” those first families who found a piece of western land that matched their dreams, made it home, made it their life’s work, cared for it and fed the country from its bounty.

In 2015, we heard the stories of second and third generations, “the Survivors,” who kept the family dream alive against huge odds during the farm depression of the 1980s, years of drought, fires, predation of their lambs, and dramatic growth in imported lamb and wool among other issues. They hung on.

This year our final year of Celebrating Generations, we will listen to the “Next Generation”—those poised to follow the generations of family before them. Will they hold onto the dream of their parents and grandparents or find an easier life for themselves? If they stay, will they lead this timeless profession through dramatic change over the next 20 years into a technological, computerized, genetically guided businesses or gently remold change so it can still exist alongside a band of sheep resting mid-afternoon in a mountain meadow?

This is a pivotal generation. What optimism or commitment will guide those who stay? Can they take up the dream of their great grandfathers and make it their own? There are stories to tell.

Looking back, looking forward at 20 years —The Trailing of the Sheep Festival.



Cow Camp in the Big Horn Mountains – An Ultimate Western Experience

By Teresa Jordan

When Jesselie and Scott Anderson and Bob and Katharine Garth, longtime supporters of the Western Folklife Center, saw the Ultimate Western Experience packages offered in the silent auction during the last National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, they knew they wanted to go on at least one of them. They started bidding and in the end won two out of the four offerings. This past week they enjoyed their first adventure, at Stan and Mary Flitner’s White Creek cow camp in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. They invited my husband, WFC Founding Director Hal Cannon, and me to join them, and the six of us were treated to three days of stunning scenery and Wyoming’s best outback hospitality.


The adventure started at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West with a personal tour from the illustrious Alan Simpson, the former Wyoming U. S. Senator and Buffalo Bill Center Board Chairman who is known for his colorful turns of phrase and wide-ranging areas of expertise and enthusiasm. Although the Senator, now 86, carries a walking stick, it is not for support so much as to propel him at his characteristic long-legged gallop. Don’t tarry, don’t tarry, he constantly reminded us as he squired us through the five separate museums that make up the center—the Buffalo Bill Museum, the Plains Indians Museum, the Whitney Western Art Museum, the Draper Natural History Museum, and the Cody Firearms Museum. Left to right: Bob and Katharine Garff, Jesselie and Scott Anderson, Senator Alan Simpson.

From Cody we headed up into the Big Horn Mountains and arrived at Stan and Mary Flitner’s White Creek cow camp just in time for dinner.


Stan was stirring the coals under the Dutch oven, well on his way to making the best fried
chicken any of us had ever eaten.

He also treated us to his Dutch oven sourdough bread followed the next morning with sour dough pancakes.

After breakfast, Stan and Mary showed us the lay of the land. From here, we could look down at Shell Creek and the Big Horn River to Cody and across to Red Lodge and the Bear Tooth Mountains.

Later, Mary read to us from her forthcoming memoir, a story of family ranching and the many generations of experience that have shaped Stan’s and her lives, and which they have in turn passed down to their children.

The title of Mary’s book is A Detailed Map of the Trail. Perhaps she should use this map on the cover!


Hal sang Texas Traveler, a song popular with African American cowboys in the 19th century as they herded cows north from Texas.


Laura Bell came to Wyoming in 1977 from Kentucky and herded sheep before she started night calving for Flitners. What she thought was a six-week stint turned into six years, an experience we got a taste of as she read to us from her acclaimed memoir, Claiming Ground.

Everyone pitched in to make this an extraordinary experience. We discovered that Scott has a talent for pot scrubbing.

Girls just want to have fun! Right to left: Jesselie, Mary, Laura, Katharine, and Teresa.

Mary always has fun. Here, she shares a joke that only someone with a life of experience with cows can tell properly.

The last morning we woke to snow – as if it wasn’t already hard to leave this beautiful place!

New friends in an old West … Mary, Bob, Stan and Katharine

Our heartfelt thanks to Stan and Mary Flitner, Laura Bell, and Senator Alan Simpson for giving us what was truly an Ultimate Western Experience. As Jesselie said over breakfast our last morning, “This adventure was so much richer than I could ever have envisioned that now I can’t imagine going through life without having experienced it.”


Thank you, Mary and Stan. And the dogs were welcoming, too!

Teresa Jordan is a member of the Western Folklife Center’s National Advisory Council and a former member of the Board of Trustees. She is a well-known writer and artist and is married to Hal Cannon, founder of the Western Folklife Center and a member of the Utah band 3hattrio.

Storytelling and Telling Your Story



Mark Paris and Mary Jean Paris talked about life in America in their StoryCorps interview.

From Basque sheepherder tales, to ingenuous escapades of small-town business-owners, to the working lingo of gold mines, to adrenaline-pumping perils fighting wildfires, the Western Folklife Center knows there’s a wealth of lived experience around Elko. And beyond. We want to hear your story! Share the everyday stories of your loved ones (and maybe even your not-so-loved ones), through our collaborative project between the Western Folklife Center,, and… you!

You may know StoryCorps—the innovative, nationwide, oral history project—from their National Public Radio show or their trademark airstream trailer recording booths that travel the country giving people a chance to sit down together to record a conversation. Couples explain the turning points in their relationships. Enemies reconcile with new friends. Mentees recognize mentors. Elders invoke oral history on their own terms. Neighbors share remembrances about helping each other out. In short, people honor the wisdom of their friends and loved ones, and, sometimes, even strangers, by recording a self-guided conversation in small groups of two or three.

Did you ever wish you’d recorded your grandmother telling you how she’d perfected her meatball recipe by happenstance? Or your father explaining how he harvests edible cactus? Do you want to ask your child what it felt like to learn a major life lesson? Or hear how that stranger at the nursing home won that ballroom dancing medal? Think it would be easier from the comfort of your kitchen table or a hospital room? Well, now there’s an app for that!

The goal is to archive the knowledge of humanity, one story at a time, through stories of the people by the people. With more than 50,000 interviews recorded so far, StoryCorps is gradually amassing a time capsule of humanity, in the form of 40-minute recorded conversations. These stories are stored in the Library of Congress, and, if you choose, published on the internet. Let’s make sure some of these 50,000+ stories reflect life the way you know it!

There are two ways to do this. Let us help or do-it-yourself:

2016 National Cowboy Poetry GatheringNeed some assistance with the process? Schedule an appointment and join us at the Western Folklife Center, under the glow of the neon granding irons, in our very own recording booth, Elko-style! Facilitators, volunteers and folklorists are on hand to help. But, ultimately, you choose the questions, you guide the conversation and you bring out the stories in each other.

Simply download the mobile app at, plan and record your interview. When finished, join us by affiliating your story with the Western Folklife Center initiative: at the end of the interview, when prompted, enter the keyword: westernfolklife. And listen to your neighbors’ stories by following our account at

The premise is simple: as StoryCorps founder Dave Isay says, “Listening is an act of love.” Ask someone else-a loved one or a stranger-what they know about life. Let them leave a trace of themselves. And listen to what they have to tell you. And to tell us. It’s a legacy for humanity. But it’s also an exercise in humanity. Let’s listen to the stories of those who share the rural West with us.

It’s nearly time to get your tickets to the 33rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

WFC_8495 33rd NCPG Poster_smallestReal Stories. Straight Up.
If you are planning to attend the 33rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, we suggest you come prepared…with your favorite story! The event, January 30 to February 4, 2017, will be an extravaganza of stories, first-hand accounts told in verse, song, film, visual art, new media, and just plain ol’ prose. All around Elko you’ll experience today’s renaissance of storytelling–tales rich with lessons learned, risk-taking, humor, heroes, neighbors and family. We are especially excited to be hosting The Moth Mainstage at the Gathering. The Moth is a leader in the national resurgence of storytelling performance and can be heard on National Public Radio.

Sit back and listen or join in with your own stories. Interested in documenting stories from your life? Sign up for a digital storytelling or oral history workshop or recording session at our StoryCorps booth. Curious about new and old avenues of sharing experience? Attend a roundtable conversation with bloggers, radio and video producers, journalists, cowboy sages and visual artists. From the keynote address to the last show of the Gathering, we’ll honor the tradition of storytelling, as told to the best audiences for the performed word in the rural West.

Ticket Sales Begin September 6 for Western Folklife Center Members
If you want the best seats in the house and want to be sure you get to see your favorite performers in an evening show, you best be a member of the Western Folklife Center. Members get to buy their tickets a full month before the general public, starting at 9:00 am PST on Tuesday, September 6. Membership starts at $40 for an individual, and since you get a free ticket to one of two members’-only shows with that (value $40), your membership is FREE. So, visit our membership page and join online, or contact Carolyn Trainor, our membership guru, at 775-738-7508/888-880-5885 ext 222 or, and she will hook you up with the membership level that is right for you.

Dom Flemons by CE

American Songster Dom Flemons by Charlie Ekburg

Ticketed Shows and Workshops
Have you visited our new Gathering website? All of the ticketed shows and workshops are detailed there at The 33rd Gathering will feature Doug Moreland and the Flying Armadillos from Texas and rising star Luke Bell Kicking up Dust on the big stage to open the main event. Corb Lund is back as is American Songster Dom Flemons, a huge favorite from last year. Ian Tyson has fully recovered and will be gracing our stages once more as will so many other Gathering favorites! If you’ve never tried a workshop during the Gathering, this could be your year. We’ve got digital storytelling and oral history workshops, cooking with celebrity chef Kent Rollins, horsehair hitching, songwriting, rawhide braiding, and dancing, dancing and more dancing. We will be sharing much more Gathering news between now and January 30 on this blog and website, so check back often! And get your tickets early!


Visit Our New Website!

WFC-bannerWe invite you to visit our newly renovated website at Thanks to everyone who worked on its construction and to the funders who supported the work, we are better able to serve you, our members and supporters. We hope you like the results!

You’ll find the site more intuitive –  everything within a click or two away. One of the goals of this renovation is to make communication easier and more concise. You should be able to find what you’re looking for within a pull-down menu if not directly with a button on the cover page. A work in progress, we welcome your comments and recommendations for ongoing improvement.

One facet of our mission is to provide opportunities to tell the real stories of the contemporary rural West. Our National Cowboy Poetry Gathering delivers that opportunity in a big way in real time every winter (January 30 – February 4, 2017). We hope that our website becomes the digital home for continuing the storytelling and poetry and ranch land culture-sharing that happens at the Gathering through conversations on our blog. Our large inventory of YouTube videos and Deep West media projects, both audio and video, carry on the storytelling tradition. You can access these stories and performances with links here.

The Western Folklife Center has been “gathering” these stories, songs, poems and topical panel discussions from its beginning. Since 1985 and the first Gathering in Elko, Nevada, showcasing ranch culture in the present tense–as told by the cowboys, ranchers, and diverse ethnic agrarian communities of the West (and the world)–has become the driving vision and modus operandus for the organization. A community was launched back then, first by cowboy poets once unaware of others like themselves with rhymes in their hip pockets, ranchers and townsfolk, and then tourists arriving along el Camino I-80. And that community continues to grow and diversify to this day just as the West grows and diversifies. We’ve become a bridge for those steeped in deep Western traditions and those drawn to the West for a thousand different reasons. With our knowledge of traditional folkways, we beam a light and lend an ear to the sights and sounds of the changing landscape of ranch culture. We become creative place keepers.

We hope this website helps spread the word and keeps the faith in rural values that we share in common. Thank you.

David's signature

David Roche
Executive Director

10 things that you must do at the Gathering

cowboy poetry

1. Go to a show at the Elko Convention Center Auditorium. The convention center has been a key component to the NCPG and its success. The auditorium is a perfect setting for enjoying your favorite artists. Beautiful lighting, great sound and a fun atmosphere make the convention center a must for all visitors to Elko.

Ed and Gail

2. Take a walk through the Wiegand Gallery. Each year the gallery showcases horsemen, ranchers, artists, musicians, crafters and historians from another part of the world. This year, Baja vaqueros from a little-known corner of Mexico, Baja California Sur have come to Elko. Expand your understanding of foreign horsemanship, ranching and music by visiting the gallery or catching a vaquero show.


3. Visit a museum. Check out the Northeastern Nevada Museum and California Trail Center to learn more about the West through the stories and history that made Western life and tradition a reality.

4. Eat at the Star. Great food, huge portions, strong drinks and everyone is family. Enough said. Just remember that 3 Pecans will be plenty.

5. Sit in on a youth poetry reading. Watching the next generation of cowboys (and cowgirls) develop their skills and talent as poets, writers and musicians can be as inspiring as watching the longtime veterans. It also means so much to them to have your support and encouragement. If you love the NCPG and want to see the event continue through the years, then take some time to see one of these performances.


6. Go to a Deep West video screening. Deep West videos are an important part of how we bring the hidden cultures of rural areas to the forefront of conversation. This year’s videos are a look into the Owyhee Reservation through the eyes and storytelling vision of its children. Deep West videos are an inspiring view of native culture, western culture and current events happening here in Nevada and across the West. Don’t miss an opportunity to see these films and expand your knowledge.

7. Find your favorite artist at the Pioneer Saloon. Many of you know that the Pioneer is the place to grab a strong drink and relax between shows. It turns out that the Pioneer is also the place where the artists go to get a strong drink and relax between shows. This provides an opportunity for you to thank your favorite performers at a personal level. Rarely can you approach your favorite performers at such an enormous event, so if you see an artist that you enjoy don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and thank them for their performance, we are all here to have fun.


8. Find an “after hours” party and jam session. You typically need to know someone to find the late night party, but in Elko jam sessions and parties pop up all over. Just keep your ears open and your eyes peeled. Hint: The Pioneer is a great place to find these unofficial events, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and meet new people. You never know where that might take you.

jam session

9. Go to a dance. With most of the great western musicians scouring the streets of Elko this week there will plenty of opportunities to shake your hips and move your feet. So don’t pass it up. Hone your skills at one of the dance classes taking place throughout the week, and show off your moves at one of the dances taking place Friday and Saturday night.

10. Write about your experience and share it with the Western Folklife Center. This event relies on the care and support of the community. Your input could help sustain and grow Western Folklife for years to come. The NCPG’s new director, David Roche, welcomes you to send emails and write letters that describe what you enjoy, what you want more of, and what aspects of the event that could use a touch up.