Tag Archives: cowboy poetry

Graduation Week at the Western Folklife Center

Looking for something to do with the family during Graduation Weekend? The Western Folklife Center has several activities for the whole family to enjoy. Whether it’s taking in some great cowboy poetry and music in a concert Saturday night, finding something special in our Gift Shop, enjoying the You’ve Got Spurs exhibition in the Wiegand Gallery, or doing the Portraits of the Gathering walking tour around downtown Elko, the historic Pioneer Hotel is the place to be in the heart of old Elko.

Photo by Hal Cannon.

At the Western Folklife Center, take in the amazing Portraits of the Gathering and You’ve Got Spurs exhibitions in the Wiegand Gallery, watch “Why the Cowboy Sings” in the Black Box Theater, and find a last-minute graduation present in our Gift Shop, which has a little bit of everything, including: jewelry; wallets & purses; soaps & lotions; pottery and fine art from note card size to wall hangings, watercolor to metal; books and music – many items from local artists.

While in the Gift Shop, pick up a walking tour map for our Portraits of the Gathering storefront  exhibition —featuring 24 cowboy poets who took the stage in the early years of the Cowboy Poetry Gathering—then use your cell phone to scan QR codes for a full audio experience.

Photo by Jessica Brandi Lifland.

And on Saturday night, get ready as the Western Folklife Center presents a very special evening featuring Texas-based cowboy music historian & musician Pipp Gillette, and Elko’s own cowboy poet, Waddie Mitchell. These two friends will provide an evening of entertainment for the whole family with their mix of classic and contemporary cowboy poetry and music. Waddie Mitchell brings the cowboy’s West to the stage through classic tales and original verse, while musician Pipp Gillette shares favorite songs on guitar, banjo, harmonica, bones and more. Opening the evening will be a performance by young Tuscarora singer/songwriter Marinna Mori.

Poster artwork by Teresa Jordan.

About Pipp & Waddie

Pipp Gillette raises cattle on the family ranch near Lovelady, Texas, where his grandfather started raising cattle and cotton in 1912. Drawing on a lifelong interest in Western history and music, Pipp plays traditional cowboy music on guitar, banjo, harmonica and bones. His historic Camp Street Café & Store in Crockett, Texas, is a live music venue featuring performers from around the world. Pipp and his late brother Guy Gillette recorded eight albums of cowboy music and were recipients of three Western Heritage Wrangler Awards for their work.  Pipp’s latest CD is Pipp Gillette with Lloyd Wright.

Waddie Mitchell was immersed in the cowboy way of entertaining as a boy on the Nevada ranches where his father worked. In 1985, Waddie helped organize Elko’s first Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Since then, he has kept busy writing, publishing and recording. In 1994, Waddie helped found the Working Ranch Cowboys Association (WRCA); it’s continuing mission is creating scholarships and crisis funding for working cowboys and their families. Inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame in 2011, Waddie was honored in 2012 with the Nevada Heritage Award from the Nevada Arts Council. In 2017, he released Cohorts & Collaborators, an album featuring top Western artists with whom he has co-written songs.

Waddie Mitchell and Pipp Gillette at 2016 National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum Wrangler Awards, photo courtesy of Pipp Gillette.

The ongoing collaboration of Waddie and Pipp has resulted – so far – in two Western Heritage Wrangler Awards from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma:

2016 Music – Outstanding Traditional Western Album
Pipp Gillette & Waddie Mitchell
“Singing Songs by Waddie & Pipp”

Wrangler Award

2013 Music – Outstanding Original Western Composition
Song by Pipp & Guy Gillette for “Trade Off,”
Written by Waddie Mitchell

For more information, contact Brad McMullen at bmcmullen@westernfolklife.org or (775)738-7508x 223.

The mission of the Western Folklife Center is to use story and cultural expression to connect the American West to the world.

Another Year, Another Reunion

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Sunday, February 3, 2013

As the gathering comes to an end and Elko steadies itself after a rambunctious week, we are reminded how special this event is. This year was particularly great as so many different pieces came together creating the family reunion that we look forward to the other 360 days. Its sad to say goodbye to friends (both new and old), but these relationships will blossom year after year as long as people take time to visit. Get home safe, and keep in touch.

Written by Mike Gamm

Gathering the Future

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Saturday, Thursday 2, 2013

Early this morning artists, annual Gathering goers, and new comers came together in a round table discussion focused upon the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering’s future. The group focused specifically upon the growth and success that we would like to see over the next few years.

Without filling the page with meeting minutes, I have taken the liberty of selecting a few topics from array of subjects that came to light as voices were heard and ideas were shared. The following is a bit of a jumble, and in some ways so was the meeting, so take what you want from it and let the rest wash over.

How’s the Artist Selection? There was a resounding belief that the selection of artists has been well thought out and chosen by the Western Folklife Center‘s staff. And in addition to having artists that are fun to watch, this selection of artists does not see the Gathering as a focus upon them, but instead a focus upon the people that make up Western folk culture. (They are here to see friends and meet new people just like the rest of us). Simply put, the Gathering retains its roots.

With that said…

Are we an event based upon inclusivity or exclusivity?  There was an emerging dichotomy regarding what audience the NCPG should be focusing upon; ranch families that make up much of the area West of the Mississippi or people from urban centers all over. The Gathering started in the late 70s and early 80s by bringing local ranch families together to share and enjoy art, music and poetry. Today, ranchers and other hard working people continue to set aside time in their lives to get off the ranch and head to Elko. The Gathering has experienced changes and lulls in attendance over the last few years that have caused enthusiasts to worry about its welfare (making this one of the most important topics to address).

Is this a Business or a Social Event?  There are so many more fun events and strange happenings that many visitors either aren’t aware of, or don’t know occur. On any given evening you’ll stumble across jam sessions, late night dance parties and even personal heroes.  These are the parts of Western folklife that many find important.  I for one, implore that each and every visitor sit down at a table filled with strangers or approach artists that you otherwise wouldn’t, because this is exactly the right place to do it and we want to continue these traditions for years to come.


The Western Folklife Center is not in the best position to  support this event in the longterm without a good long look at how the business side of this event is related to its survival.  Of course, much of these questions will need to be answered by Western Folklife staff.

How do we bring new people in? Word of mouth and bringing a friend to visit the Gathering is simply not cutting it anymore, and the importance of getting the NCPG community involved in welfare and growth was a recurring theme. As well as keeping in mind that the local community and people whom work so hard getting this event going each year have a vested interest in the Gathering’s continuing success. If you are one of those people traveling hours or even days to get here, you’re a part of an effort to get the NCPG moving forward. Getting involved with other events and forums in your hometown may be the way to assure that the Gathering remains in Elko over the next 29 years.

There is a question about whether we should focus our efforts on social media (such as Facebook, Youtube or even this blog site).  Much of this boils down to what audience we would like to pull into Western folklif.  Sure, kids use these technologies but western folklife is all about focusing on arts by getting your hands dirty and meeting people.  Grass roots conversation is how all of this got started, perhaps there is a way to keep this part of the event in tact.

Is Our Focus Education or Entertainment? There is also a discrepancy with what age group we want to focus our efforts in developing the next generation of artist and visitors. Perhaps the “next generation” isn’t what it seems (such as young children or teens) it could be college twenty somethings that are ripe for new experiences or single 30 somethings looking for something familiar. This is difficult to define, but is a critical question facing the Western folklife center and the people that love Elko.

In Conclusion. There is a fear that if we reach out too far, we will lose what makes the NCPG and Western Folklife special.  Artists are open minded and forward thinking when comes to understanding that the social environment we live in today (and Elko itself) are changing entities. Perhaps, this year’s success will bring together an array of new ideas that will help expand our future.

The NCPG is a truly amazing place, a place to meet family that you never knew you had. People from all walks of life are able to come down to Elko, making it a great place to not just see artists perform their craft, but also take the time to create friendships that last a lifetime.

The Western Folklife Center wants to know what you have to say, please leave comments below. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

What is it that brings people to the NCPG year after year?
Who is the target audience at the NCPG?
How do we keep our community roots, while keeping a focus on entertainment/education?

Written by Mike Gamm

Something Else To Do: Rodeo Swing

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Saturday, Thursday 2, 2013

imageToday, dancers and would be dancers gathered in the High School gym to learn rodeo swing. The event began with an informative yet simple introduction by Craig Miller and Amy Mills that got people up and moving in no time. Some attendees may have been intimidated by the dancing prospect, but Craig instilled confidence by explaining that there is “no right way to do these steps.”


A class like this allows smiles, laughs and mistakes that result in a bunch of great dancers. Craig gives the tools needed to move feet in the right direction, and allows you to fill in the rest. If you plan on attending one of these classes be sure to leave all your bashful baggage at home because its time to dance.

Written by Mike Gamm

Water in the West: A Round Table Discussion

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Saturday, February 2, 2013

ws3Water can be a ‘dry’ subject but today’s panelists enlightened the attendees through engaging conversation about watershed development. Each speaker explained that we as a society need to widen the lens as we search for solutions to changes that are fast approaching. Water is simply a big issue in the American desert and we have the ability to engineer successful change if we approach the problems and questions with open minds. We need to recognize that both agricultural water use and drinking water are important, but they develop and sustain different forms of societal growth. There was so much in this discussion that the speakers couldn’t get to, but below is a summary of the ideas and information the panelists provided.

Jack Loeffler, “Thinking Like a Watershed” and “Headed Upstream”
Jack gave a brief, but dense history about how modern water management has been formulated. Over 120 years ago John Powell rode across the American West creating a detailed map of the territorial watershed. Powell proposed that the watersheds should be the driving factor for defining state lines so that each area could derive their own self sustaining plan. However, once the watershed had been made public, entrepreneurs descended upon those watersheds with regulation and control. This money and land grabbing has led to a focus upon money making rather than a focus upon creating regard for the land that we live on. The Law of the River in which different states were afforded fixed amounts of water is controlling water growth today and is an important part of understanding where we have come from, and the limits of where we are going.


Lisa Hamilton, “Deeply Rooted”
Lisa spoke about how water is being utilized effectively today, and how there are practices that aren’t so well defined.  Instead of wondering why we put a million person city in the middle of the desert (like Las Vegas), we need to ask, what is important for our future and we have to ask how we will use low precipitation land effectively.  As a whole, we need to take into account the importance of regional effects, and create a relationship with water that represents where we want and need to be. “The West begins when annual rainfall falls below 20 inches,” this quote rings true the fact that western states have a distinct climate that should and does directly reflect the way we utilize water.

Alexandra Davis
To start, Lisa stated that ‘We have enough water for the West,’ but included that we need to develop a relationship with water that accurately reflects what is important when sustaining a thriving society. Most of the water comes in the winter as snow pack that will then fill rivers in the warmer months.  However,  this system of ‘water storage’ is quickly changing today.  Annual precipitation is changing from snow to rain, which will challenge our current water storing methods. The Prior Appropriation Doctrine solves many local issues but has difficulty tackling the regional water problems because it creates a winner/loser mentality.  Care for the environment and focused discussion about agricultural growth together is a key to creating a sustained system of water usage.

ws2We are focused upon our personal economic sustainability far more than the landscape in which we live. It is important to avoid growing beyond the sustaining capabilities of the land.

Written by Mike Gamm
Photos by Charlie Eckburg

Mary McCaslin

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Friday, February 1, 2013

DSC_0009Mary McCaslin has honed her style from folk’s deepest roots. Even a short performance at the Flag View Stage didn’t fail to take the audience back to some of songwriting’s best years. Her influence on contemporary Western folk music is evident with songs that explain life’s experiences through the looking glass. Her steady hands worked with the guitar effortlessly, and some could hardly wait to see her unique use of the banjo. Mary stays true to each song without flaunting her skills; allowing the audience to surrender to the music.

Written by Mike Gamm

Italian Buckaroos: Old World and New World

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Friday, February 1, 2013

The international side of this event is so vital to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering coordinators because ranch hands and bronco breakers from around the world have been so important to the culture that the American West has today. Charlie Seemann explains that horse people are horse people, and we are all able to come together in Elko and share stories that cross borders and time. All of this helps create relationships that will last a lifetime. Sharing stories of the corral and landscape reminds us that people working cattle and horses from around the world are not so different than those in the American West.

download1Today was a great showcase as the Italian duo Gianluca Zammarelli and Marco Rufo played casually before a happy audience. People enjoyed food, wine, and great company as Gianluca and Marco played songs from home.  In addition, Gianluca took time to teach the audience about their musical style and instruments.  The anatomy of the bagpipe is much like that of a family, a group of parts put together to make amazing sounds and feelings, and there is a cross hidden within the facets of the pipes to keep the devil away.

There is much to be learned about the butteri down at the Folklife Center exhibit. Here’s just a few things:

Today Italian tradition lives on in America spurred by Italian immigration West over 150 years ago. In fact, many of the cowboys and ranchers today have roots in Italy.

Blue jeans were invented in Genoa, Italy to give a strong pair of pants to sailors. It wasn’t until Levi patented the pocket’s copper rivet that the blue jean became marketed and popular in the American West.

Buffalo Bill and his troupe visited Italy eight times, and was once issued a challenge as to who may be the better bronc rider: the American cowboy or the Italian butteri.  Although the results of this challenge may vary between America and Italy today, there remains a legend that a butteri by the name of Agusto Imperiali conquered the American horse.

Written by Mike Gamm

Photos by Charlie Eckburg

Tuneful Troublemakers

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Friday, February 1, 2013

download2Glenn Ohrlin has certainly been at this for many years, and as he stepped onto the stage a 12 year old Brigid Reedy followed close. The theatrical arguments between the pair and the passing of folk tradition was magical to watch. 75 years between them certainly didn’t let on as they played great music today, and it is great knowing that the next 30 years of cowboy poetry and music will be carried on by talented young performers like Brigid.

download3First time National Cowboy Poetry Gathering visitor, Ed Peekeekoot, took the auditorium today after a standing ovation finish at the Flag View Stage yesterday. And like an old friend to the NCPG, Ed talks smooth and shows massive amounts of confidence and class. His stories about growing up on a reservation listening to friends play popular rock and roll cords is a great dimension of growing up. During those years he found his own music with influence form Chet Atkins and Merle Travis, all leading to an amazing ability to layer chords into musical melody. Ed is a fresh and fantastic way to fall in love with Western folk traditions. With the help of his wife, Gail, Ed provides a good time for everyone in attendance and comes across as the kind of person that you could stand up and party with.

Ed is fast making the list of favorite artist this year and certainly one that you shouldn’t miss out on.

Written by Mike Gamm

Photos by Charlie Eckburg

Roughstock Cocktail

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Thursday, January 31, 2013

Paul Zarzyski and Wally McRae by Jessica Brandi Lifland_smLast night the Roughstock Cocktail proved to be a great mix of music, poetry, and comments regarding Paul’s sagging derriere. The show’s name did not fail to provide as the amazing cast mixed equal parts of flavor and zest with music and story.

The performance opened to an audience nearly bursting at the seams, and a rousing introduction to LSD by Paul Zarzyski got the crowd’s energy pumping. The stage was not short on talent as Cowboy Celtic lulled the audience with sweet melodies, and Paul Zarzyski and Wallace McRae provided all the in- between with word and poem. Even the silent duo, Nathan and Joe, impressed the audience using their instruments to create strong stage presence. Quips and jokes by the rest of the group kept cheers and laughter pouring. Simply put, it was a great time watching this motley crew up on stage doing what they love. Giving way to good old fashion fun.

After the show an impromptu musical bash between Cowboy Celtic and the Italian duo Marco Rufo and Gianluca Zammarelli broke out in the G Three Bar Theater. And with a bit of trial and error at the beginning, the bands soon melded together keeping the those in the Pioneer Saloon entertained for hours. If you hang out at the Folklife Center long enough you’re sure to see the Italian musicians walking about playing bagpipes and accordion. It’s quite fun to see Marco and Gianluca banter back and forth about rhythm and song choice, even if you don’t understand Italian.

Written by Mike Gamm

Photo Courtesy Western Folklife Center

Young Guns

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Thursday, January 31, 2013

download5Last night’s “young” guns came to the G Three Bar Stage with guns blazing, each entertaining the crowd with sharp lyrics and an array of stories. Andy Hedges and Brenn Hill had the crowd moved with poetry and song, each weaving life and music together seamlessly.

download4Its great to have performers step onto the stage and immediately captivate the audience with smiles and fun. If you were looking to find spunk and heaps of heart on a National Cowboy Poetry Gathering stage then you had better seek out another show with Adrian. She certainly brought the lady fire last night and let us know that buckerettes are a tough group of gals.

Written by Mike Gamm

Photos by Charlie Eckburg

Cowboy Philosophy

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Thursday, January 31, 2013

In this session, Jess Howard and Georgie Sicking shared their stories about the simpler parts of the western lifestyle, while Keith intrigued us with what it meant to be a cowboy as we grew up watching great American heroes. Together, they remind us that being a cowboy is not all work and strife; that it’s made up of plenty of laughs and fun. Most of all, they reveal that each day is special as long as we strive to be our own cowboy.

Kristyn Harris and the Quebe Sisters Band

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
January 31, 2013

imageKristyn Harris wowed performance-goers in the open mic music sessions at last year’s Gathering, and as a result, she came back this year with a variety of fun songs.  She’s a talented singer/songwriter with plenty of extra skills in her tool box.  Her smooth talk and yodeling kept the room engaged, and once again Kristyn didn’t fail to impress the audience, proving that fresh talent is always welcome at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Wow this girl can yodel!
Yodeling Fever with 18-year-old Kristyn Harris. Click here for a video.
The Quebe Sisters Band took the stage once again this afternoon, showing what it means to be a powerhouse trio.  It will get you all warm and fuzzy inside hearing these girls singing and playing.  Everyone on stage is a champion of their craft, and they’ll show what it means to be the best.

A Changing West

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
January 31, 2013

20120204_jbl_WFC_2951Today’s session “A Changing West” presented great stories and songs by John Dofflemyer, Henry Real Bird and Gail Steiger. Each painting beautiful pictures of the West. Although lament for the western way may have been the topic, these poets painted pictures not just about the changing West, but also how the West is still out there for all of us to explore. John Dofflemyer revealed that poetry can describe so much more than a something we see. Gail Steiger asked us to take a look at the West that remains as we visit Elko, and Henry Real Bird reminded us that the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is a place to explore some of these lost (but needed to be rediscovered) places and traditions. By the end, they showed us that the West can be found in the poetry that it keeps it in our hands and in our hearts, proposing that the changing West is only the whitening of our hair.

Written by Mike Gamm

Photo by Jessica Lifland

Beautiful Day in Elko

29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Thursday, January 31, 2013

The rousing performances by the Quebe Sisters Band and Max Baca & Los Texmaniacs may have kept people up late last night, but as the city awoke in shuffles, smiles could be seen as the Gathering moves into full swing today. This morning appears to be another beautiful day in Elko, Nevada, as blue skies push the white away.


The Quebe Sisters Band and Max Baca & Los Texmaniacs have stopped in Elko before flying off to Zurich, Switzerland. From the beginning of last night’s performance the Quebe Sister’s were all smiles and talent. They did no less than allow our hearts and minds to fly away as quick hands and sweet voices lulled our senses. The balance between vocal power and fiddle rhythm kept feet moving.

20131230_jbl_WFC_0346When Max Baca & Los Texmaniacs stepped out from the curtain it was clear that the party was starting. The energy within the group showed a strong love with stage and audience, and simply stated they we’re a fun group of guys. Their music leaves us wondering if it’s always a good time in Texas.

Each of these groups will be performing over the next few days, so don’t miss your chance to see them.

Written by Mike Gamm

Photo by Jessica Lifland

Interview with Andy Wilkinson and Andy Hedges

Each year, the Western Folklife Center invites artists to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.  Unfortunately for all of us, the Gathering is only a week long, hardly enough time to get to know all the artists.  Through this blog, we hope to give you a closer look at some of the artists.  To start things off, Gathering Manager, Tamara Kubacki, interviewed Andy Wilkinson and Andy Hedges.  As part of the interview, Andy Hedges sent along two tracks from their upcoming album, The Outlands.  Get an exclusive first listen here!

LISTEN to The Crooked Trail

TK: You have a new website, andyandandy.com.  After three albums, does this mean that yours is a permanent partnership?

AH: We’ve also just finished recording a fourth album that will be released by the end of the year. I don’t foresee us ending the partnership but I am sure that we’ll both continue to do solo projects and perform solo at times. One of the nice things about our arrangement is that there is no pressure and no expectations. There was never a formal beginning. We just sort of fell into working together and I’d like to think that if it ever ends, it would be the same way.

AW: Exactly.  There are two other important factors to consider.  First, we’ve never come up with a cool band name.  Second, at my age a permanent partnership really doesn’t mean much!

TK: You also released a new CD this year, Mining the Motherlode.  Many of the reviews I’ve read point out that much of the subject matter is the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.  Andy Wilkinson said, in a review by Margo Metagrano of cowboypoetry.com, “The history of the American West was openness. The future of the American West is water. Mining the Motherlode explores that future by using the lens of art to look at our present and our immediate past.”  Will you expand on the idea of using art to look at the present and immediate past?

AW: The principal business of art is storytelling.  And the principal business of storytelling is to give us an understanding of the world that is distinctly human.  The historian sees their view, even though it is ever-changing, to be the objective truth.  The artist knows that the ever-changing nature of truth can only be captured in a story.

TK: What about using history to explore the present and future?  A lot of the songs you perform, not just on the newest CD, are arrangements of traditional and folk songs.  How are traditional songs relevant to today’s listeners?

AH: Traditional American folk songs are weird, strange, funny, scary, sad, and intriguing stories about the human condition. Bob Dylan said a person could learn how to live listening to folk songs. And all American music comes from this, whether it’s rock-n-roll, country music, blues, or cowboy songs. It all grows out of this same tree of American folk music and it is as relevant now as ever, especially in a time when it’s hard to find anything that’s real. These traditional songs are honest. With that said, I don’t approach the music as a traditionalist or a purist. I am not trying to duplicate the sound of a 1930s recording. I am simply an interpreter, trying to bring what I have to the songs and looking for ways to change them – new verses, new melodies, combining songs, anything that makes the songs fit. It’s all part of the folk process.

TK: Your collaboration is rich with dichotomies that prove that opposites attract.  Your voices are very different from each others’: Andy Wilkinson writes original material while Andy Hedges arranges the traditional songs; the topics you explore cover both history and the future; and Andy Wilkinson is a bit older than Andy Hedges (sorry for pointing out your ages!).  I find it interesting that all of these opposing ideas work so well together.  How do you do it?

AH: I’ll add another one: Wilkinson is a poet and I am a reciter. But, we do have the same name!  I think it’s the differences that make our collaboration work. It would be boring if we were both the same age and both songwriters.

AW: I’ll add only this: our souls are the same age.

TK: Speaking of your ages, people might assume that because Andy Wilkinson is older, he is a mentor to Andy Hedges.  But as I’ve gotten to know you, it seems to me that you are truly friends and that your musical relationship is a partnership rather than a teacher/student situation.  Is Andy Wilkinson a mentor or more?

AH: I don’t really think about or notice the difference in our ages. I’ve always been friends with folks who were much older than myself.  Andy Wilkinson IS a mentor to me but he’s much more than that. Or maybe he is exactly what a mentor should be: a friend who is generous with their time, talent, and knowledge, who treats you as an equal and is also eager to learn from you.

AW: I should add that I learn every bit as much from Andy Hedges as I hope he learns from me.

TK: I am also interested in Andy Hedges’ attraction to traditional and older styles of music.  Where do you find the songs you rearrange?  How does working with Andy Wilkinson help your process?

AH: I immerse myself in all types of old time and American folk music. I have a special interest in cowboy songs but I listen to a little bit of everything and it’s all connected.  I listen to old 78s and LPs and I buy lots of CDs and I download music. I collect old folk songbooks and I’m always keeping my ears pricked for something that I can use.  Sometimes Wilkinson writes a song that will remind me of something I’ve heard or will send me in search of a certain kind of song to pair with it. For example, Mining the Motherlode originally started with Wilkinson writing a little bunch of songs for a program we did about the “next Dust Bowl” and we wanted to include some depression era songs and some Dust Bowl songs so I began digging deeper into that material.

TK: Andy Wilkinson, you also seem to be interested in historical figures and are presenting your show Charlie Goodnight: His Life in Poetry and Song” at the Gathering this year.  Can you speak to writing original material, especially music, that draws on history, and how Andy Hedges’ traditional sensibilities affect your current work?

AW: I am fond of saying that I write from history because I’m lazy; there are no better characters, no better plots, no better stories than what can be found in the real world, and if it’s already happened, it’s history.  So in that, I am already a traditionalist.  Besides which, good songs are timeless — no song speaks to me just because it’s old, or just because it’s new, or just because it comes from some particular tradition or genre.

TK: A lot of your music not only illustrates a time in history, but also evokes a sense of place.  What role does living in Texas play in the music you create?

AW: I don’t think living in Texas makes any difference.  I do think that living in this particular part of Texas plays an enormous role.  Out on the Southern Plains, we’re still very close to a history that’s particular to this place.  Cities tend to develop in many of the same ways, but each countryside seems — at least, to me — to have its own, unique history.

TK: On your latest release, Andy Hedges’ wife, Alissa, and Andy Wilkinson’s daughter, Emily Arellano, play a more noticeable and prominent role, each of them singing lead on two songs: “Dust Can’t Kill Me” (Emily) and “Old-Timey Heart” (Alissa).  Both of them have beautiful voices that complement your voices in different ways.  Why have you decided to include them in your collaboration, and how has it enhanced the recording?

AH: For one, they are much better to look at than the two Andys! And, as you have pointed out, they have beautiful voices that complement what we are already doing. They also allow us to perform some songs like “Old-Timey Heart” that would not make sense with a male voice. The thing I really like about performing with Alissa, Emily, and Andy is that we are all friends and family. When we make a record, we record almost everything in real time with very few overdubs and we don’t use any session players. Everything you hear on the new record comes from the four of us. It’s a very natural way to make music.

AW: And I’ll add that my son, Ian, is playing harmonica on our newest and as-yet-unreleased project.  I can’t imagine doing something as important as art with people other than family and friends.  We’re very, very lucky.

LISTEN to The Old Chisholm Trail

TK: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.  Readers who want to know more about Andy Wilkinson and Andy Hedges can visit their website at andyandandy.com, or, better yet, talk to them in person at the 28th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, January 30 – February 4, 2012.

Mining the Mother Lode

There are moments at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering that one never forgets. I had such a moment last night.

I was backstage in the Convention Center Auditorium in the show called “This is My Home,” featuring Waddie Mitchell, Andy Hedges and Andy Wilkinson, and Corb Lund & The Hurtin’ Albertans. Waddie had finished his set and Andy and Andy had played a few songs when Andy Wilkinson left the stage so the younger Andy could recite a poem. I listened, wholly transfixed, as Andy recited “Mining the Mother Lode,” a poem written by Andy Wilkinson lamenting the degradation of the aquifer in the Llano Estacado in the southern panhandle of Texas.

Reminiscent of arguably the most important cowboy poem ever written—”Anthem,” by the late Texas poet Buck Ramsey—”Mining the Mother Lode” is a plea to anyone who will listen to protect the mother-lode aquifer. It is a poem of anger and loss, with an urgent message for us to pay attention while we still have a chance to save the aquifer and its life-giving water. Andy Hedges’ recitation is beautiful and heartfelt. Here’s the last stanza:

“What will we do with this gift of the mother-lode?
Pray that the poets and the dreamers remember it,
pray that the guardians hold it in stewardship,
pray that we honor it, pray that we husband it,
pray for the tribe of the mother-lode aquifer,
pray for the water, the sweet Ogallala lake,
nourishing all who tread lightly and carefully,
lightly and carefully, lightly and carefully.”

You simply MUST listen to this poem. You can find it on our cybercast. Scroll down to “This is My Home,” Friday, January 28 at 6:30 pm. The poem starts about 31 minutes and 53 seconds into the show (the rest of the show is awesome too). Bring some tissue.

Andy and Andy tell me that they have recorded the poem on their next album, which comes out in a couple of months. Stay tuned to their My Space page.

Darcy Minter

Flat Stanley Becomes a Cowboy Poet

Flat Stanley came in the mail the other week.  See, he was flattened by a bulletin board and now goes on adventures.  He’s visiting Nevada to learn about cowboys and cowboy poetry.  Flat Stanley has gone on quite a few adventures while in Elko. He drove an old ranch truck.

He pitched some hay.

PItching Hay

He sat in a saddle.

Back in the Saddle

He learned to carve leather.

Carving Leather with Andy Stevens

He met a cowboy poet.

Flat Stanley with Waddie Mitchell

He recited some poetry.

Reciting Poetry on Stage

He met a few musicians (Glenn Ohrlin and Adrian).

Hanging with AdrianListening to Glenn Ohrlin

He played music with Dave Bourne.

Playing Piano with Dave Bourne

And he finished his night with some sarsaparilla (that’s Rooster Morris, who made Stanley his hat).

Having a Sarsaparilla with Rooster Morris

He’ll be headed back to Michigan next week, exhausted like the rest of us, and with lots of stories to tell his Kindergartner friends about becoming a cowboy poet.

He also made a flat horse friend, Pancake, but I didn’t get any pictures of them together yet.  Check back in the next few days for the story of Pancake the Paint.

Stages don’t manage themselves

Fifth year stage managing at the Gathering, evidently just long enough to start remembering names and faces, and putting them together in the right combinations. I rolled in on the train on Wednesday night, and wisely stopped at the Folklike Center Saloon before heading on to bed. The crowd was peppered with cowfolk who I knew, and it really did feel like a homecoming. Such high spirits at the Gathering, and not just from the spirits.

I made my rounds through the crowd, but did pack myself off to bed at a pretty reasonable time. Sensible. The Gathering is a marathon, not a sprint, after all.

I won’t recount all the to-ing and fro-ing from the first day – backstage might be interesting a lot of the time, but there’s also a lot of sitting and waiting, going in search of a trash can or some tape, then checking the clock and sitting some more.

I had the pleasure to be backstage for Judy Blunt’s keynote speech this morning. A super-simple gig for a stage manager – no set changes, no ‘wrap it up’ handwaving, no greater organizing to be looked after than just “you’re next, you’re up.” But it was a distinct pleasure to get to hear what Judy had to say.

She hit on a familiar mournful tone of loss for some of the older ways of western livestock culture. But just at the moment that I was starting to wonder if the first Gatherings were as focused on the loss of the past, Judy tossed a hard turn into her address and reminded us how grateful a lot of folks have been for much of the progress of the last hundred years, and reminded us to look forward to how we can preserve the spirit & passion of this culture even amid all the changes. She staked her opinions deep and declared them clearly. Afterwards, she commented that she was afraid she’d be met by pitchforks and torches, but I heard many more comments like Paul Zarzyski’s, that Judy’s speech had made him cry into his mustache.

I had the middle of my day free, so I wandered doing a few regular Elko things. Picking up some boot polish, eating a so-so sandwich, pressing on further to a great cup of coffee, impulsively buying a mouth harp.

As the afternoon arrived, I headed to my rest-of-the-day gig, stage managing for Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s dinner theater show over at the Great Basin College theater.

The tech crew were amazing, as always, and all the volunteers absolutely eager to help. Getting the musicians set up went perfectly, and everybody had what they needed by the scheduled end of the sound check. Perfect.

We got the place set up, the instruments all in place, the levels all set, and the band had time enough to go over a couple tricky spots, then we retreated back stage to wait for the diners to get fed, relocated and re-settled.

The show is amazing, I highly recommend it to anyone who can find the time and a ticket. Jack mostly stuck to the set list, best as he could. But the moment dictates the song it needs, and sometimes concessions must be made. I bet no one out front could even tell that two of those songs the musicians had never played with him before, though.

Much as I unreservedly endorse that show, though, I have to say, wandering in an out of Jack’s backstage monologue was certainly captivating and as entertaining as the music was. I had plenty to keep an eye on all over the theater, but when Jack starts a story, it’s mighty hard to walk away.

I heard bits and pieces about offending Peter Fonda, doing a screen test for Dennis Hopper, making a geisha cry by singing Bob Dylan, and I learned that a clew is the corner of a boat’s sail. Maybe you knew that, but it was news to me. I hated to interrupt, but it’s best if everybody gets to hear how much time there is before the show starts, so I did have to interrupt once in a while.

I have another full day of keeping the shows on the rails tomorrow, so I better not linger too late on the blog. One last thing, though – if you run in to Van Dyke Parks, I strongly recommend you try to get one of his business cards. You’ll be glad for it.

I hope to get a few backstage pics in my wanderings around Elko events tomorrow & hope to get them up with my next post. It can be an eerie half-light world, and surprisingly solitary despite the impending audience interactions.

Have fun out there everybody! More soon!
-Dan, stage manager

And We’re Off!

Speaking of Geno Delafose and French Rockin’ Boogie, I have a story about how everyone in Elko comes together to make these performances happen.  For those of you who don’t remember, I’m Tamara, Gathering Manager.  That title is apt for what happened yesterday.

I got a call at 7:15 am on Wednesday morning.  This was early for me, especially since workshops and shows weren’t starting until 9:00 am, but I dutifully answered the phone.  Geno was calling to arrange a ride to the airport.  He and the band got in on Tuesday, as planned, but their luggage stayed in Salt Lake City.  They were told to pick up the luggage Wednesday morning at the Elko airport.

I headed in to the Folklife Center, planning on driving the 15 person van to the airport.  Luckily, I ran into Carol Gamm and handed her the keys.  She took them over to the airport while I handled some other issues (our shuttle coordinator fell ill with a nasty bug that’s going around, so I was filling in until we could get things straightened out, which we did by 9:00 am).  At 8:30 am I got another call from  Geno.  Their luggage did not make it onto the 8:00 am flight.  Their luggage, which included their instruments, was coming in at 11:30 am.

Geno Delafose and French Rockin’ Boogie were scheduled to perform for the CowKids’ Stampede at 10:00 am.

We couldn’t disappoint 900 kids, of course.  So I got on the phone to find three instruments: bass guitar, single-note accordion, and frottoir, the washboard.  First I called Mike Polise, of Polise Music.  He had a piano accordion and bass guitar.  Easy.  Geno said he could play any kind of accordion, so we were set there.

So then I had to find a washboard.  Sure, Elko is a town that holds on to its past, but where was I going to find a washboard at 8:30 in the morning?

Luckily for me, Rori Holford, who helps with the exhibits, remembered seeing one at Cowboy Joe.  She called over there to see if we could borrow the washboard.  The women working at Cowboy Joe were gracious enough to lend us their antique washboard.

The look on Demetric Thomas’s face was priceless when I walked in with a washboard.  Carol ran to get some spoons and Darryl Guillory (Geno’s neighbor) found some rope.  A frottoir  was born!

Mike Polise dropped off the bass guitar and the accordion, and then ran back home to grab some drumsticks.  In the meanwhile, Geno had decided to play the keyboard, and Colin, the sound engineer, set it up on stage in less than seven minutes.

900 kids were treated to the show of the year, and the show even started on time!  Many thanks to Mike Polise and Cowboy Joe.

photo by Jessica Brandi Lifland

The 27th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is off to a great start!  Thanks for being here, and enjoy the show!


P.S. All the luggage came in on the 11:30 am flight.

Geno Delafose on the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Geno Delafose and his band French Rockin’ Boogie, a cowboy zydeco band from southwest Louisiana, performed at the Gathering for the first time last year. Listen to what he had to say about his experience.

Geno and the band are returning this year and will be playing the Saturday Night Dance, among other performances. We just can’t wait to get out there on the dance floor! Dick and Sandy Sturm hosted zydeco and cajun dances at the Western Folklife Center all summer and part of the fall, so there are lots of Elkoans who are ready to shake their groove “thang.”