Friday, February 14, 2014

The Road to Elko ~ January 31, 2014

Home base for our adventure in Elko has been the Gold Country Inn. It's comfortable, convenient and has a great little restaurant called JR's. Linda, one of our friends from Boise, is staying upstairs. Our travelling partner Carol and Linda's friends Bob and Jyl are staying at a different hotel downtown. Somehow we manage to coordinate rides and the occasional meal. The only thing missing this trip are Boise friends Ken and Betty Rodgers. They had to put Elko aside this year to prepare for the next round of travel related to the screening of their documentary: Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor

You may see the same friendly faces at a number of venues and only cross paths with your friends a couple of times. The beauty is that some of those very strangers become acquaintances and friends. It's just the nature of the Gathering. Someone I sat next to in one of the venues has a sister in Sebastopol. Go figure!

The day kicks off with "Cut 'em Loose" with Joel Nelson, Jerry "Brooksie" Brooks and Paul Zarzyski. As you may have surmised Zarzyski is one of our favorite performers, we never tire of his special kind of poetry and humor. We were first introduced to the inimitable Brooksie in 2012 during one of the shows honoring Charlie Goodnight. We marveled at her ability to recite an epic length poem. She defines the strong, courageous, and artistic woman of the West and is an exceptional reciter of classical and modern cowboy poetry.  

Second event is "30 Years of Wrangling Words" with six poets and reciters. The four gentlemen: Dick, Waddie, Joel and Paul were great but it was the ladies who stole the show.   

2009 photograph by Lori Faith Merritt,
Georgie Sicking
Photo credit Lori Faith Merritt

Georgie Sicking was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1989. She calls herself a cowboy who just happens to be a woman. Her poetry struck a note for all of us. Be Yourself and Housewife will brighten the dreariest of days. Her biography and more poetry can be found at

Yvonne Hollenbeck is the top award winning cowgirl poet in America. Home is old family ranch in rural South Dakota, the nearest town is 30 miles away. Her poems The Truth About Cowboy Laundry and What Would Martha Do? will have you in stitches - which reminds me, she's also an award winning quilter.  Her biography and a few of her poems can be found at 

It's just now noon, so we grab a bite to eat in the cafeteria and head off to the Members Show #2. Standouts from this show are Vess Quinlan and the Gary Haleamau Family Band from Hawaii. The day just keeps getting better. 

When we purchased tickets last fall the "This is my Prairie" show with Ian Tyson was sold out. On a whim we decide to see if there are any tickets available. Jackpot! We get two tickets in Row E, five rows back from the stage. He's a singer, songwriter, cowboy, and storyteller extraordinaire. In 2011 he received the Charles M. Russell Heritage Award. You may remember one of his earlier incarnations as half the duo of Ian and Sylvia.

There are live podcasts of both the Members Show and Ian Tyson's show on the Western Folklife Center website at

The entertainment and inspiration is not limited to the shows. We hear young hopefuls harmonizing in the halls, see impromptu musical collaborations in lobbies and on the street. We're drawn back in time as budding poets paint word pictures that bring the Old West back to life and also tell the stories of today's real working West as well. That's what good modern cowboy poetry is all about. By the time the day is over we're giddy as kids who've been let in on a big secret. Time for a light dinner and off to rest up for tomorrow. Chance of some snow on the horizon.