Cowboy Jam Session by Jeri Dobrowski: 31st National Cowboy Poetry Gathering |

Cowboy Jam Session by Jeri Dobrowski: 31st National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

In the pensive “Good Bye, Old Man,” cowboy poet Baxter Black chronicles an old cowboy’s passing as retold by his 22-year-old buckaroo pal. It’s a bittersweet piece, that concludes, “I thought I heard above the coffee sloshin’ in my cup / The far off, easy, pleasured sound of old friends catchin’ up.” (Read the poem in its entirety at

The last two lines evoke similarly joyous scenes that will play out in cafes, coffee shops and watering holes in Elko, Nev., when the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering (NCPG) convenes the end of January. In its 31st year, the NCPG draws artists and fans from around the world to northern Nevada for a week of poetry, music, stories, films, dances, exhibitions and workshops inspired by ranching and the rural West. Some of the fans and performers have been coming to the gathering for decades. For them, returning to Elko is like a homecoming. They look for friends in favorite haunts and restaurants, catching up over beverages or a meal.

More than 55 poets, musicians and musical groups from the U.S., Canada and Australia will perform at this year’s event which runs January 26 – 31, 2015. Additionally, vaqueros, leatherworkers, musicians and community scholars from the desert highlands of Baja California Sur, Mexico, will be in attendance, sharing an insight into their ranchero culture. Visit for a full list of artists, bios and audio samples.

Most of the invited musicians and poets are represented in the Western Folklife Center’s gift shop, which operates in two locations during the gathering as well as being accessible online. Artists often release new projects in conjunction with the NCPG, holding autograph signings following a performance.

Making her twelfth appearance at the gathering, Clearfield, SD ranchwife Yvonne Hollenbeck will debut both a book and an album. The book, Rhyming the Range: Poetry about My Life on a South Dakota Cattle Ranch, contains Hollenbeck’s newest poems and favorites from her first two books, which are now out of print. It sells for $25. The CD, Rhyming the Range: Poetry from a South Dakota Cattle Ranch, features 21 original poems from the book recited by Hollenbeck. The CD sells for $15. Buy both for $35. (All prices include postage.) Order from Yvonne Hollenbeck, 30549 291 St., Clearfield, SD 57580-6205; 605-557-3559;

Hollenbeck and her husband, Glen, own and operate a working cattle ranch in south-central South Dakota near the Nebraska state line. Her involvement with day-to-day activities serves as inspiration for her poetry, including the self-explanatory “Pulling the Caking Trucks Blues” and “The Big ‘Oh No!’” The latter is only 60 seconds in length, but in that amount of time Hollenbeck conveys the dread and horror of accidently washing a rancher’s indispensable calving book. (For more see

Making his first trip to Elko as an invited guest, Al “Doc” Mehl of Westminster, Colorado, also has a new release. Entitled Doc & Tub Live!, the 13 original tracks are a mix of music and poetry performed with the Littleton Chorale. “Tub” refers to Washtub Jerry, who joins Doc in the live concert performance on the washtub bass.

Mehl traces his roots to central Kansas, where his grandfather raised six children on the family homestead. His poem “Fence Posts Made of Stone,” tells of the limestone posts used in that area of Kansas that is devoid of trees. “Graduation” follows an academically-challenged lad who, through dogged determination, managed to graduate top of his class, albeit at the age of 21. (Listen to tracks and order the CD or download at CD Baby, accessible through I highly recommend a previous release by Mehl, The Great Divide.)

The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is a project of the Western Folklife Center, 501 Railroad St., Elko, NV 89801; 775-738-7508; Follow the festivities on Facebook at Western Folklife Center. Mark your calendars now for the 32nd Gathering which runs Jan. 25 – 30, 2016.

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