Western Folklife Center Building Temporarily Closed

Photo by Hal Cannon.

Due to increasing health concerns, we are taking a precautionary measure to maximize social distancing and minimize the potential spread of COVID-19. Beginning today, Monday, March 16, 2020, the Western Folklife Center Gift Shop, Wiegand Gallery, and administrative offices will temporarily close until further notice.

We invite you to join us online for music, poetry and other interesting and entertaining programs of the Western Folklife Center. Watch videos on Vimeo and YouTube, listen to interesting and entertaining audio pieces, explore through online exhibitions, join us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more.

The Western Folklife Center staff will be periodically checking phone and email messages. Online orders from the Gift Shop may be delayed. Thank you for your understanding. Stay safe!

Report on the 36th Gathering Ranch Tour


Ranch Tour and Coach USA bus, photo by Michelle K. Min

“This was A++! Enlightening,
Informative – interesting
with good humor;
the hospitality was A+
and the food was A++.
Our bus leader for the day was
So! Interesting and knowledgeable.”
– tour workshop participant

The tour, photo by Michelle K. Min

This year, the 36th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering sold out Ranch Tour offered partakers the unique opportunity to visit two northeastern Nevada multi-generational ranching operations. The hour-long bus ride to and from Clover Valley included narrative by tour host Ron Torell about the settlement of the West, history and ranching way of life in rural Nevada, and discussion on public lands grazing. Participants visited the Dalton Ranch (settled as a homestead in 1868), sitting at the north end of the valley, and the Brough Ranch (dating back to 1869) at the south end the valley. A traditional Dutch oven lunch was served at Wells Rural Electric Company, with a brief talk and information from the Nevada section of the Society for Range Management and the Nevada Association of Conservation Districts.

Dutch Oven, photo by
Jessica Brandi Lifland

Participants agreed upon reflecting on the tour that while it is easy to get caught up in the romance and nostalgia of the cowboy way of life, ranching in the desert range environment is not without a lot of hard work and risk and Dalton and Brough Ranches serve as prime examples of northeastern Nevada operations that have persevered through several generations of hard work and commitment to the life style they have chosen.

“Delightful hosts and great knowledge of host speakers.
Weather was unbelieveable and hayride super.
Lots of time; never felt rushed.”
– tour workshop participant

This event supported by:  Coach USA, Wells Rural Electric and Luciano’s

Announcing Michael Martin Murphey and the Rio Grande Band

Photo by Joe Owensby



Michael Martin Murphey presents a special performance of songs from his over 40 years of performing…all with his stellar Rio Grande Band featuring Gary Roller, Ollie O’Shea, Ryan Murphey, and rising star Carin Mari. Come see this exceptional performance never before seen at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, with such hits as “What’s Forever For”, “Wildfire”, “Cowboy Logic”, and selections from his recent Cowboy Christmas tour that has been touring annually for over 25 years. We hope you enjoy this brilliant night of hits, stories, and cowboy songs.

Thursday, January 30, 2020 at 8 pm, Elko Convention Center Auditorium – Tickets on sale now

Michael Martin Murphey and the Rio Grande Band perform (members Gary Roller and Carin Mari shown)

Horses, Cowboys, Veterans & Family Ties

The 36th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering delivers again with a line-up of exciting, thought provoking, and educational special discussions and compelling speakers. There will be something for everyone in the scope and number of discussions and special sessions presented January 26-February 1, 2020.

Not to be missed on Thursday, January 30 is the Gathering’s opening Keynote Address, a conversation that will explore the value and growing relevance of horses in contemporary society and how we might regain the important connection horses once represented between rural and urban communities. Ghuan Featherstone, South Central Los Angeles native and founder of Urban Saddles (above, lower left); Derek Knapp, executive director of the ground-breaking Restoration Ranch (above on right, second from bottom); and Bryan Neubert, horseman/buckaroo, and colt starting, horsemanship, and cow-working expert (above on right, second from top); will come together to share their different everyday experiences with horses and their communities.

The Gathering sessions continue to honor the horse and celebrate the horse-rider connection by offering Conversations: Horses and Riders I and II. Join Pete Taylor (above, top left), Ghuan Featherstone, Derek Knapp, Mike Beck, Maria Lisa Eastman (above, top right), Maddy Butcher (above, middle left), Bryan Neubert, and Randy Rieman (above, bottom right) in these discussions and learn from their variety of backgrounds of the use of science as well as tradition to optimize outcomes for horses, in rural or urban settings, contemporary therapeutic centers and working ranches.

In exploring this year’s theme honoring and celebrating the historic contributions and contemporary culture of Black Cowboys, the Gathering will feature many illustrated talks and conversations.

Myrtis Dightman, Sr.

Historian Les Sweeney explores the legendary buckaroo and National Cowboys of Color Hall of Famer Henry Harris. And Myrtis Dightman, Sr., who in 1964 became the first Black cowboy to compete at the National Finals Rodeo, will make the trek to Elko from his Texas home to share some of his amazing life stories. Mr. Dightman will also participate in a Rodeo Stories session along with rodeo veterans Luke McKay, Gabe McKay, Jim Brooks, Rodney Nelson, and Cat Clifford as they take listeners behind the chutes, into the arena, and down the road, through hearty stories of the ins and outs and ups and downs of rodeo life.

The McKay family of Juntura, Oregon

And in Stories & Film: The McKay Family, we invite you to get better acquainted with an eastern Oregon ranch family that includes six adoptive children from Haiti with a rich exchange of stories, music-making, and more from father Joe McKay and Gabe, Clare, Luke, and Anna Rose – including the additional treat of a short sneak preview of daughter Clare McKay’s film-in-progress about their family and her two rodeo-chasing brothers.

Additional talks that you’ll experience at the 36th Gathering include:

Delta Hill Riders, by Rory Doyle

Southern Riders, a visual presentation by Gathering featured photographer Rory Doyle introducing some of the communities he met in his three-year journey to document Black cowboys, and horsemen and women from Georgia to the Mississippi Delta;


Myrtis Dightman, Jr.

Community, Continuity, Conviviality: Trail Rides in the South Central U.S. sessions. In these sessions Rory Doyle will be joined by Myrtis Dightman Jr. and Geno Delafose and others, as they all share tales of the Black cowboying tradition of trail riding groups and rides from Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta to Texas;


GatheringVeterans’  Stories, Songs,
and Poetry
. Hosted by Karen Lloyd of the Veterans History Project, this talk will include those involved in the Writers Project and veterans presenting and sharing stories they have been collecting, as well as writing, related to their service. The panel will feature Jennifer Koopman (Great Basin College), Dave Richmond, Bill Jones, Ghuan Featherstone, Joel Nelson, Derek Knapp, and Ted Howard. The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is honored to continue its collaboration with the Veterans Resource Center at Great Basin College and the Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress;

Spencer Smith, in the field

Managing for Abundance: How Ranchers are Stewarding the Land for Increased Biological Outcomes. Spencer Smith, owner and operator of the Jefferson Center for Holisitic Management, and an accredited Savory Field Professional, will connect the dots between ecosystem function and livestock movements, healthy soil and human nutrition. This discussion will celebrate the great stewards of our Western landscapes while looking at new, innovative ways that producers and land managers are building soil, habitat, and improving water resources. Presented in collaboration with the Northeastern Nevada Stewardship Group.

Read biographical information on our special guests and visit http://www.nationalcowboypoetrygathering.com.


36th Gathering Celebrates Black Cowboys


“Trail Blazers,” a Marion Coleman quilt, from the collection of Arkainee Ervin.

For 36 years during the heart of winter, thousands have traveled to Elko, Nevada to listen, learn, and share stories of ranching and the rural West through poetry, music, and stories. People of all backgrounds identify with the beauty and challenges of the cowboy lifestyle, from the Mississippi Delta bayou to Buckaroo country, Oklahoma rodeo grounds to the streets of Oakland and Los Angeles. This year the Gathering will feature men and women from these ranching and horseback communities to explore and celebrate the often under-represented historic contributions and contemporary culture of Black cowboys, from bull-doggin’ to blue-yodellin.’

National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Dom Flemons, photo by Jessica Brandi Lifland

Dom Flemons, known as “The American Songster,” will return to Elko for his third appearance at our event. His GRAMMY-nominated album, Dom Flemons Presents Black Cowboys, was released in 2018 on the Smithsonian Folkways record label in conjunction with the National Museum of African-American History. “I am so proud to celebrate the legacy of the Black cowboys at the 2020 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada,” says Flemons. “In 2016, I was invited to the Gathering and I was inspired by this incredible community of cowboy poets, musicians, artists, and historians. I’m honored that the Elko community helped me spread the powerful message of these true American heroes to diverse audiences worldwide!” Fellow musician-historians Pipp Gillette, Lloyd Wright, and Andy Hedges (host of the podcast Cowboy Crossroads) will join Flemons to highlight the influence of Black cowboys on Western music and culture in the “Blues on the Range” show.


Artwork courtesy of freepik.com.

The importance of rodeo as a place where people come together will be celebrated with shows like “Straight Chutin’ Champions” featuring Oakland Black Cowboys favorite Miko Marks, Rodeo poets Paul Zarzyski and Henry Real Bird, and bull-riding musician Cat Clifford. There will also be storytelling sessions where barrier-breaking bull rider Myrtis Dightman (the first Black cowboy to compete at the National Finals Rodeo) and other rodeo competitors will talk about their experiences in and out of the arena.

Representing the South is Creole cowboy and rancher Geno Delafose from southwest Louisiana. Geno and his band French Rockin’ Boogie will join Wylie and the Wild West and Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertans for “Battle of the Bands” and lead the Friday night zydeco dance.

2019 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Geno Delafose, photo by Charlie Ekburg.

The Wiegand Gallery of the Western Folklife Center will feature exhibits centering the African-American experience. Vintage Black Heroes: The Chisholm Kid Exhibition, a display of the first color-print comics to feature a Black hero, and the first about a Black cowboy, travels to Elko from the Museum of Uncut Funk. Created for the Pittsburgh Courier in 1950, The Chisholm Kid pays homage to the 5,000 to 9,000 Black cowboys who drove cattle along the Chisholm Trail from Texas to Kansas after the Civil War. Award-winning artwork from Marion Coleman’s Blacks in the West quilt series and Rory Doyle’s “Delta Hill Riders” photography project will also be on display during the Gathering.

Film, stories and talks scheduled throughout the week will bring focus to both the historical and contemporary, rural and urban. Catch a glimpse of the complexities of Compton’s cowboy culture in the film Fire on the Hill. Explore the cultural phenomenon of Lil’ Nas X’s “Old Town Road” and the yeehaw agenda. Hear about the heritage of African-Americans in the West through talks, presentations, and films presented throughout the weekend.

NCPG logo 250px

These are just a few of the exciting things happening at the Gathering in 2020. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more! Tickets to the 36th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering are now on sale. Choose a Single-Day Pass or 3-Day Deluxe Pass to enjoy the 90+ intimate and informal daytime poetry, music, and storytelling sessions, film screenings, discussions, and open mic performances. Supplement your pass with tickets to themed shows and workshops.

The 36th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is supported by the Nevada Arts Council, National Endowment for the Arts, Nevada Humanities, National Endowment for the Humanities, the City of Elko, Elko Recreation Board, Wells Fargo, and many other sponsors and individual donors.

Announcing the Featured Artists of the 36th Gathering!

Photo by Jessica Brandi Lifland

The Western Folklife Center is pleased to announce the artist line-up for the 36th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, January 27-February 1, 2020. Tickets go on sale to Western Folklife Center members beginning September 3, and to the general public on October 3. Members also get a ticket to one of two free members-only shows and a discount on the price of a 3-Day Deluxe Pass, which is $60 during the member pre-sale period and $80 starting October 3. To purchase or renew a membership, click here.

Featured Poets & Musicians

An American Forrest, Enterprise, OR
Mike Beck, Manhattan, MT
Cat Clifford, Porcupine, SD
Dylan Clough, Spanish Fork, UT
Doris Daley, Black Diamond, AB, Canada
Geno Delafose & French Rockin’ Boogie, Eunice, LA
John Dofflemyer, Lemon Cove, CA
Carolyn Dufurrena, Winnemucca, NV
Maria Lisa Eastman, Hyattville, WY
Dom Flemons, Hillsborough, NC
Patricia Frolander, Sundance, WY
Pipp Gillette & Lloyd Wright, Crockett, TX
DW Groethe, Bainville, MT
R.W. Hampton, Cimarron, NM
Andy Hedges, Lubbock, TX
Carol Heuchan, Cooranbong, NSW, Australia
Yvonne Hollenbeck, Clearfield, SD
Hot Club of Cowtown, Austin, TX
Chris Isaacs, Eagar, AZ
Randi Johnson, Hines, OR
Jarle Kvale, Dunseith, ND
Ned Ledoux, Northeastern KS
Corb Lund & the Hurtin’ Albertans, Southern AB, Canada
Annie Mackenzie, Jordan Valley, OR
Miko Marks, Oakland, CA
Waddie Mitchell, Twin Bridges, NV
Marinna Mori, Tuscarora, NV
Tracy Morrison, Boise, ID
The Munsick Boys, Dayton, WY
Joel Nelson, Alpine, TX
Rodney Nelson, Almont, ND
Jonathan Odermann, Medora, ND
Vess Quinlan, Florence, CO
Henry Real Bird, Garryowen, MT
Brigid Reedy, Whitehall, MT
Randy Rieman, Choteau, MT
Jake Riley, Riverdale, NE
Trinity Seely, Ojai, CA
R.P. Smith, Broken Bow, NE
Jay Snider, Cyril, OK
Dave Stamey, Orange Cove, CA
Gail Steiger, Prescott, AZ
Michael Stevens, Alpine, TX
Tom Swearingen, Tualatin, OR
Jessie Veeder, Watford City, ND
Wylie and The Wild West, Conrad, MT
Paul Zarzyski, Great Falls, MT

We love this lineup, and are sure you will, too. For more information on the artists, ticketed shows and workshops, buying tickets and more, visit nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org – we will be constantly updating our site as the event nears!

Waddie Mitchell and Dave Stamey react to a piece by Rodney Nelson at the 2019 Gathering. Photo by Charlie Ekburg.



Western Folklife Center Presents Mike Beck: Acoustic

Mike Beck at the 2019 Gathering, photo by Jessica Brandi Lifland.

On July 18, 2019, acclaimed contemporary cowboy singer/songwriter Mike Beck returns to Elko and the Western Folklife Center stage for a one-night concert of acoustic music and stories. Add even more fun to your evening before the concert with a free guided walking tour of our downtown Elko storefront exhibition, Portraits of the Gathering!

Start the evening out with a walking tour of the storefront exhibition, Portraits of the Gathering at 5:30 pm. Meet our tour guide in front of the Western Folklife Center, then visit a fraction of the many portraits available for viewing (more tours coming up), enjoy the portraits and poetry – and use your mobile device to access a QR code to listen to the poem, performed by the artist, and learn more about each artist on a special website.

The late Elko County ranchers Jack Walther Portrait and Irene Walther art, featured at Blohm’s Jewelers in downtown Elko, Nevada. Photo by Meg Glaser.

The Pioneer Saloon doors open at 6:00 pm, serving refreshing beverages and offering delicious snacks provided by The Star Hotel. While you’re here, enjoy a walk through our Wiegand Gallery exhibitions, more great photography of early Gathering artists in Portraits of the Gathering and the amazing work in I’ve Got Spurs. The doors to the G Three Bar Theater open at 6:30 pm.

Tickets to the concert are $15 general, $10 for students, seniors and Western Folklife Center members, and $5 for kids – available now at the Western Folklife Center Gift Shop or at the door on July 18.

Known for his guitar wizardry and acclaimed Western songwriting, Mike’s mellow sound combines real cowboy experience with a unique blend of Western, rock and Americana styles.

“An accomplished guitarist and distinguished songwriter,
he writes some of today’s most transcendent, relevant songs about the West.”
– Margo Metegrano, Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry

This event is made possible thanks to support from the National Endowment for the Arts, Nevada Arts Council and the Star Hotel.