This year, as the de facto education sort-of coordinator guy, it was my job to call up a handful of artists and ask them how they’d feel about us tossing them in front of several hundred rambunctious school kids and telling them to be entertaining. And, as with every year we did find a brave handful willing – and even excited – to go along with it.
So on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday the vans rolled out delivering various combinations of Diane Tribitt, Dave Stamey, Janice Gilbertson, Mike Beck, Dave Bourne, Jerry Brooks, Florida poet Doyle Rigdon and Louisiana zydeco masters Geno Delafose and French Rockin’ Boogie to serve up some kid-sized cowboy poetry and music around Elko, Wells, Carlin and even Eureka. Twice on Wednesday, for the Cowkids Stampede, we packed 900 local kids into the Convention Center auditorium to see Riders In The Sky. And today Corb Lund performed and talked music with the band and choral students at Elko High School.
On Tuesday I got a break from intern duty and snuck over to Elko Grammar School #2 to check out some of the fun. I pulled up, parked, followed the sounds of accordion and rubboard into the gym and caught Geno and the guys rockin’, and our Zydeco Dance Workshop instructors boogyin’, before a bunch of grade-schoolers, seated cross-legged on the floor.
But the real fun started when Geno took questions. Things like “Are you famous?” and “Have you ever played music in Missouri?” and the two-parter “Do you have your own CD? ‘Cause I wanna buy it.”
Then one boy stood up and asked, “So why didn’t you teach US how to dance?” Some kids laughed, and some teachers frowned in the boy’s general direction. Geno paused. He glanced at his band, turned back to the mic and said, “Tell you what I’m gonna do. Everybody stand up. I want you to take two steps to the left, now two steps to the right. Good. That’s the two-step. Alright, let’s go!”
With that, upper-octave cheers filled the room, and the gymful of kids made that simplified two-step last almost all the way through “Move It On Over” before the whole room erupted into an all-out freestyle dance-party. During the next few songs the chaos included conga lines, spinning kid circles, a mohawked would-be breakdancer, and just about every student – and more than a few teachers – flailing their limbs about, running around, pitching their cowboy hats in the air and expending their post-lunch sugar high to the lively sounds of zydeco right here in Elko.
Overall, I thought it was an appropriate answer to a fair question.
Seeing all this, I realized I still remember the assemblies I saw as a kid, and these kids probably will remember this one for a long time. It’s an important side of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and one most folks never see. I’m glad that on Tuesday afternoon, thanks to my job, I got to.
I just wish I’d arrived in time to hear Diane Tribitt’s response to the question “What’s manure?”
— Devon the Intern