Cowboy Jam Session: Western Culture News & Reviews |

Cowboy Jam Session: Western Culture News & Reviews

Snowstorms pummeled the western United States as folks headed to Elko, NV, for the 2008 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Some bemoaned the fact that the gathering is held in winter. As I heard the story, organizers settled on late January as the time when ranchers could most easily get away from the demands of land and livestock. It’s a formula they’ve stuck with for 24 years.

The sponsoring Western Folklife Center, a regional nonprofit based in Elko with offices in Salt Lake City, is planning for the silver anniversary event Jan. 24-31, 2009. They hinted at things to come in this year’s program: inviting all participants back for an ongoing reunion stage; recognition for those who have attended for 20 to 25 years; honoring deceased poets and musicians.

But, hold the phone, here’s what I consider the most exciting news to date: a performance tour of cowboy poetry and music that will play five sites in the western United States. There were rumors, but the Western Folklife Center (WFC) has made it official. The tour hits the road in the spring of 2009. They are looking for host communities.

Each site will host a two to three-day residency, including a concert, school program, writing workshop, and film screening. The WFC is looking for communities with small to medium-sized theaters and a community-based organization to assist on a local level. I encourage readers to find out more about this marvelous opportunity. Contact Meg Glaser or Christina Barr at (775) 738-7508 to get the ball rolling.

The WFC is open for business 12 months out of the year. It’s an oft-overlooked fact. WFC staff are busy year-round, documenting, preserving, and presenting the heritage of the American West. Resulting exhibits, films, radio programs, recordings, and public presentations are archived at If you haven’t spent time digging into what’s there, allow me to highlight a few of my favorites.

A series of five-minute videos entitled The Art of Gearmaking profiles four cowboy craftsmen: Doug Groves of Nevada’s TS Ranch demonstrating rawhide work; Mark Dahl, Starr Valley, NV, bit making; Doug Krause, Eaton, CO, mecate making; and Dale Harwood, Shelley, ID, leather carving. The videos, along with an in-depth discussion of cowboy gear, award-winning contest entries, and resources, are part of a larger exhibit entitled Back at the Ranch: an Artful Life. Start your tour at

I reconnected with Sharon O’Toole at this year’s gathering, discussing the delicious leg of lamb that she and husband, Patrick, grilled for the Wyoming party. The O’Tooles ranch in Little Snake River Valley on the Wyoming-Colorado border. They are among a handful of diarists who log onto the WFC Web site with candid insights on life in the American West (earning them the title “Webloggers”). Blog authors welcome readers with customary Western hospitality, minus the coffee. Sharon faithfully posts her entries, augmented with powerful, workaday photos. You’re there as they calve heifers, rake hay, shear, supply the herder’s camp, and walk their daughter down the aisle at a ranch wedding:

Three other notable Weblogs are those of John and Robbin Dofflemyer, ranchers from the Sierra Nevada foothills near Visalia, CA:; Jeremiah Watt, Coalinga, CA saddlemaker:; and Linda Dufurrena, photographer from Winnemucca, NV:

Trying another technological term on you for size, let me tell you about the WFC’s Podcasts – something akin to a free radio show that’s available on the internet. You can listen to the programming on your computer or download it to an iPod or digital music player. The WFC’s first Podcast was a 1990 recording of Texas poet Joel Nelson reciting Bruce Kiskaddon’s “When They Finish Shipping Cattle in the Fall.” The most recent features Don Edwards’ performance of the Jack Thorp classic, “Chopo.” To access Ranch Rhymes: Cowboy Poetry and Music from the Western Folklife Center, click on or paste the following link into your browser:

I leave you with one last on-line jewel, the complete set of National Cowboy Poetry Gathering programs. I’m not talking a representative photo of the covers. No, the entire program from each of the past 24 years can be viewed in its entirety, along with the corresponding poster. You can also read or listen to the keynote address. Click on or paste the following into your browser:

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