The Western Folklife Center Board of Trustees has decided to forego an in-person event for the 2021 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, originally planned for January 25-30, 2021. While it was a difficult decision, the board unanimously took this action after consideration of the potential risks posed by uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. In its place, the Center will offer online programming rooted in both archival recordings as well as new performances and other productions filmed on location and in its iconic G Three Bar Theater in Elko, Nevada.
The organization’s top priority is concern for the health and safety of everyone who makes the Gathering a success each year, including Elko residents and the thousands of attendees who travel to the small Northern Nevada community from all over the United States and beyond. Additionally, the board acted to manage financial risk that could jeopardize the longevity of the organization and event.
“After significant exploration and thoughtful discussion with our board, it became quite clear that a full-blown Gathering like we are all used to cannot be in the cards for the 37th year of this event we all hold so dearly,” said Kristin Windbigler, the organization’s executive director.
“Despite the inevitable sadness we all feel about this decision, we remain hopeful and even a little excited about the opportunities that lie ahead. The Western Folklife Center’s archive of more than 40 years of audio and video recordings, along with the addition of a new multi-camera television studio in our theater will enable us to share online the full breadth of the Gathering year-round while also keeping Elko on the public’s radar as a travel destination once it’s safe to do so again,” she said.
The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering — often referred to simply as “Elko” — has brought together communities bound by shared interests to celebrate the magic of Western lands and lifestyle through live performances, workshops, and much conviviality each January. It is a community-wide experience, with businesses all over town offering hospitality and dining as well as trade shows, exhibitions, and open mics. The Western Folklife Center’s programming injects millions of dollars into the local economy during a time when Elko needs it most.
Paul Caudill, chairman of the Center’s board of trustees offered on behalf of the governing organization, “We are clearly aware of the impact this decision will have on the local economy, but feel strongly that health and safety must come first. But, in the face of adversity comes opportunity. We are committed to deliver a first-class program that will serve to keep our broad community together through the balance of 2020 and Gathering week in 2021. We ask for your continued support through a trying time.”