We’ve been having a great time going through photos of the 33rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering by our photographers Jessica Lifland and Charlie Ekburg. We wanted to share some of them with you — Enjoy!
We’ve been having a great time going through photos of the 33rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering by our photographers Jessica Lifland and Charlie Ekburg. We wanted to share some of them with you — Enjoy!
By Amy Hale Auker
Behind our barn, in the horse lot, is an oak tree. It is actually three oak trunks that rise from the same base creating a basin above the roots. When it rains or snows, the basin fills with water. It is a smart oak tree.
The first year I went to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 2002 I was amazed to see how many people were living lives similar to my very small wife-of-a-cowboy, remote-cow-camp existence, and yet they were writing poems and songs, creating art and crafts, bringing their lives from the ranches up onto the stage, sharing the work of growing food with a broad audience.
Since then, I have only missed one Gathering. I always come away inspired and encouraged. I come away with my well filled to the top.
This year, I began my #roadtriptoelko with a slightly negative attitude. Because of world and national affairs, I dreaded gathering with my friends. I dreaded hearing more divisive talk. Plus, I had been working with The Moth, a storytelling organization out of New York City, to tell my own story on Saturday night. It was hard. It was hard to work with the director, Maggie Cino, because I felt like I already knew how to tell a story. After all, I am an author! I tell stories on stage almost every time I introduce a poem. I blush to admit that I wasn’t taking direction well. Maggie persisted through many phone calls to hone my story, to help me tell it better. In the weeks leading up to the Gathering, I worked hard on that story as well as poetry and material for other sessions on my schedule. Andy Hedges and I collaborated to pull together a last-minute Guy Clark Tribute/Jessica Hedges Benefit, and the work softened me. The Western Folklife Center was generous in their help for the late-night tribute show, and I began to realize that my phone calls with Maggie, if I would lighten up and listen, might pay off in a better, clearer performance. Maybe cowboys have something to learn. Maybe a good hand is open to new things. Maybe that openness is what makes us better hands.
We arrived in Elko midday on Wednesday. Before the artists’ breakfast on Thursday, every shred of my concern about divisiveness was gone. And my pockets were full of gifts… honey, oranges, lemons, a gorgeous photograph by Jessica Lifland taken when she visited the ranch, a cell phone antenna booster, a bottle of Apple Crown Royal, a box of copper-plated horseshoe nails, a red suede coat from Jim Bone, a flowing blouse from Pam Brown, a homeopathic remedy to ward off the flu, and more hugs than I could count.
But the real sea-change for me was on Friday afternoon when I joined Teresa Jordan and the rest of The Moth storytellers for rehearsal. When I heard the other stories I realized that only by being open was I going to, once again, fill my well. The diversity of the stories was incredible. Teresa’s story was one of leaving the land so many years ago. We heard a story of the Oregon Trail from a third-grade teacher, a story of loss and healing from a Native American man with a strong sweet voice, a story of immigration and homecoming from a man from Guatemala. I told my story of leaving the land only to return to dig in deeper. I realized that one reason I love my community so much is that we are inclusive rather than exclusive. That when we open our doors, we all win. We tell about growing food and making art from agrarian roots. We recite the words of tradition. In that telling, we make room for anyone who wants to hold hands with us. To dance with us. And we learn from them just as much as they learn from us.
The keynote address written and delivered by Andy Wilkinson, spoke of reconciliation. Art, especially poetry and music and story, brings us together, makes us kinder to one another. The 33rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering was one of community and kindness. As I stood on stage on Saturday night, I felt the tiny rock in my pocket, the one given to me by Brooksie, the one shaped like a bird on a nest if you look at it from the right angle, and was flooded with love. I was flooded with hope. I recognized the beautiful strength in humans coming together to share, the beautiful idea of gathering. It is hard to be divided when we look each other in the eye and tell our personal narratives.
From folklorists who give dance lessons, to Butch Hause keeping the sound board going long past midnight during the Guy Clark Tribute, to a hat full of cash for Jessica and Sam Hedges, to old friends helping me when I almost melted down with nerves, to a song by Rod Taylor about turning off the news and going out of doors… this Gathering was my best ever.
The well in the base of the smart oak tree behind the barn is full from all of our winter moisture, and my well is full because we gathered, we came together in community, rooted together, growing up strong.
By David Roche
Driving west down Idaho Street in Elko, Nevada, and entering the central district at 4th Street, the unsuspecting traveler is suddenly confronted with a grazing trio of horses languidly munching in a rustic corral. Not in the flesh, mind you. A large 7 by 17-foot black and white photo mural, plastered on the plywood siding of a boarded up building puts the driver into instant time warp. Further down the street, in an alley behind the Pioneer Hotel, a calf roping cowboy bears down with lariat flying. Out on 5th Street, a steam engine on the wall of the Western Folklife Center peeks out toward Railroad Avenue where the real trains once ran. What’s going on?
The downtown corridor of Elko has long been subject to the blight of empty storefronts, most recently along Idaho Street. To address the problem with ideas developed through creative placemaking projects and techniques from other similar street artworks, the Western Folklife Center, through the support of the Nevada Energy Foundation and ArtPlace America (and the generous permissions of Pedro Ormaza and Mike Reynolds), commissioned Reynolds Photography to produce these photographic images for outdoor wall installation.
A work-in-progress entirely dependent on weather conditions, wall surface composition and the viscosity of the cream-of-wheat paste used to glue the photo paper to the walls, Reynolds Photography and Western Folklife Center volunteers have been busy attaching and re-attaching images that change the feel of the neighborhood.
Deon and Trish Reynolds, based in Eureka, NV, have been traveling the highways and byways of Nevada for more than 25 years. Deon shoots black and white panoramic images with those disposable plastic Kodak Funsaver cameras once found in drugstores everywhere but utilizing film stock he customizes and installs. Trish shoots her black and white photographs with a 1920s box camera. Both of them have had distinguished gallery showings of photographs and other multimedia works. Trish is a member of the Wild Women Artists group of Nevada and Deon recently stepped down after serving several years as a Nevada Arts Council board member.
Titled “WestStops,” a play on words referencing both camera aperture nomenclature and local geography, the large mural-size photographs give instant pause, a momentary visual meditation on time, timelessness and the circling ebb and flow of life, decay and continuity. Like the work of ramshackle structures of the rural South by the late William Christenberry, Reynolds Photography’s dedication to craft inspires an understanding of both the beauty and the poignancy in viewing images that may depict scenes out of place in the center of town but that magnify the current reality of empty storefronts as part of that same natural cycle of appearance and disappearance in the rural West.The patina of age extends to the cameras used and the darkroom techniques.
While ranch traditions of horses and cattle continue to the present, the steam trains are gone and ghost towns of abandoned mining towns dot the Nevada countryside, the latter replaced by major earth-moving operations. The glory days of downtown Elko—when big name bands played the Commercial Casino and the train ran right down the center of town between Commercial and Railroad streets—are past and gone. But the idea of a downtown Renaissance is always a possibility. For us at the Western Folklife Center, we have the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering to attract winter audiences and a canvas of brick and plywood on the sides of buildings on which to inscribe some of the visual stories of time and place in the second decade of the 21st century.
For a time-lapse video of the installation process on Deon’s Facebook page, click here.
“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Phillip Pullman
“Real Stories. Straight Up.” That’s the theme of the upcoming National Cowboy Poetry Gathering—our 33rd! As January turns to February, we will be gathered in Elko, sharing first-hand accounts, narratives passed down and around, and undoubtedly a yarn or two. The Gathering presents stories told in verse and melody and prose. To that mix, we are adding personal narratives, told by real people about real occurrences in their lives, in real time.
In case you haven’t noticed, stories are The Thing these days—there has been a renaissance of storytelling, and these stories have a much broader audience as they are distributed through digital media. We’ve gone from the campfire to the podcast. But stories are best told in person, to a rapt audience, and storytelling has always been at the heart of the Gathering arts. Our participants love to tell a good story and to listen to one. Check out all the Gathering storytelling sessions at nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org/full-schedule/. Look for the quote box icon and you’ll know there will be stories in that show.
We are particularly excited to be hosting The Moth Mainstage at this year’s Gathering, Saturday, February 4, at 8:00 pm in the Elko Convention Center Auditorium. The Moth is a leader in the national resurgence of storytelling performance, and is dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. Since launching in 1997, The Moth has presented more than 20,000 stories, told live and without notes, by people from all walks of life to standing-room-only crowds worldwide. It is a dance between documentary and theater, storytelling and performance, everyday people and entertainment. The show features five carefully selected storytellers who develop and shape their stories with The Moth’s directors. Past shows have featured stories by an astronaut, a pickpocket, a hot-dog-eating champion and hundreds more. In addition to the live Mainstage performance, which it presents all over the world, The Moth also produces The Moth Radio Hour, which is presented on more than 450 public radio stations. We listen to it in Elko on Nevada Public Radio, from Las Vegas. The Moth also produces a popular podcast, has open mic competitions, works with high school students on storytelling performance and even helps corporations solve problems through storytelling.
Their values and their mission are similar to ours:
The Moth is true stories, told live and without notes. The Moth celebrates the ability of stories to honor both the diversity and commonality of human experience, and to satisfy a vital human need for connection. It seeks to present recognized storytellers among established and emerging writers, performers and artists and to encourage storytelling among communities whose stories often go unheard.*
And, The Moth’s origins are rural—it was started by a poet(!) and novelist on a back porch in small-town Georgia. The founder, George Dawes Green, “would spend sultry summer evenings swapping spellbinding tales with a small circle of friends. There was a hole in the screen, which let in moths that were attracted to the light, and the group started calling themselves “The Moths.”* Cool, huh?
The Moth produces the Mainstage show with a minimum of extraneous activity or props: like cowboy poetry, it is raw, fresh, and beautifully presented, an intimate conversation between the teller and the listener. Last Sunday’s Moth Radio Hour featured a wonderful narrative told by Melanie Yazzie, a Navajo woman on the faculty at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She told a story about her grandmother, who was an extraordinary rug weaver. Her story hinged on a discovery of one of her grandmother’s rugs being displayed and erroneously identified as being made by “Anonymous.” It is a poignant story about the teller’s life in the contemporary art world, but still so connected to the tribal tradition through her elders. This is the kind of story you will hear in The Moth’s show at the Gathering. Listen to it here:
Please join us January 30 to February 4, 2017 for a week of stories, poetry, music, dancing, film, food, conversation and camaraderie! Visit nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org for more information and to get your tickets.
From The Moth website at http://www.themoth.org.
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.
Real 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, and she will hook you up with the membership level that is right for you.
Ticketed Shows and Workshops
Have you visited our new Gathering website? All of the ticketed shows and workshops are detailed there at www.nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org. 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!
We invite you to visit our newly renovated website at www.westernfolklife.org. 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.