Arts & Equitainment: Cowboy Poetry Festival

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Photo by Tomo for Al Jazeera America

The 30th Cowboy Poetry Festival was held in Elko, Nevada, January 27 – February 1, 2014.


Photo by Ross Andreson//Elko Daily Free Press, via AP

According to John L. Smith of the Daily Beast, “In the late 1980s, the Elko Convention Center auditorium was filled to ranch folks on holiday and most of the cowboy poets were just off the range. Now finishing its 30th year, the poetry gathering has gained national prominence and a certain cache. It still draws its share of working buckaroos and ranch bosses, but take a seat at bars inside the Star Hotel Basque restaurant, the Pioneer Saloon or the venerable Stockman’s, and you’re as likely to strike up a conversation with a college professor as you are cowpuncher with calloused hands. ”

The festival has experienced growing pains in its 30 years and the inevitable changes brought a mixture of anger and enthusiasm. Noticeable this year was a focus on showcasing the talents of younger poets and musicians while still staying close to the traditions the festival hopes to preserve. In the article , cowboy-poet scholar and folklorist David Stanley advises against stereotyping the cowboy, ” I think we should be cautious about generalizing too much because I know plenty of cowboys who are anti-war pacifist liberals, and I know plenty of cowboys who are extremely patriotic, military veteran conservatives. But what they do have in common, I think, is being told what to do: their antipathy to that. It doesn’t matter whether the Tea Party or the Democratic Party or the Republican Party is trying to organize people in lockstep, they’re going to resist that with every bone in their body.”

Full article here.


Photo by Tomo for Al Jazeera America

The best in-depth account of the festival comes from Aljazeera America where Steve Friess’ three -part story, “Mama, you can let your babies grow up to be cowboy poets” features chapters 1) Keep ’em rollin’, rollin’ rollin; 2) The Young Buckaroos Open Mic and 3) Young cowpokes, old souls.

After showcasing the poets, musicians and craft-workers happily practicing their traditional arts  in a contemporary environment of twitter and Facebook, Friess also details the stress of ranch life today where “the panelists raised a host of modern concerns — the organic beef market, how to sell via the Internet, whether to blog, how to counter animal-rights activists who sneak into barns to capture cell-phone video that make ranchers seem cruel” and other issues.

According to Friess, Joe Heguy, 30, a fourth-generation cattle rancher, knows how he plans to handle the rural generation gap.

“My dad would say, ‘You don’t want to go this route, you want to be a doctor or an attorney or something else,’ ” Heguy said. “It’s just like anything else you tell your kids not to do. My wife is over there with our 8-month-old daughter. I’m just going to teach her all the things I love so much and let her ride with me and help me. And then I’m going to tell her, ‘No, you don’t need to do this.’  And I betcha she comes back.”

Full article here.

Finally the keynote speaker was Temple Grandin, the famed scientist, educator and animal behaviorist. Her talk is long and the camera just runs, never leaving her face even though there seems to be an accompanying slide show just out of range. At first glance, the whole video seems like it might be a well-meaning but slightly tedious exercise. It is anything but. Focusing a surprisingly large amount of her remarks on horses, Grandin offers unusual insights into their behavior and emotions that make it well worth watching.


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