Several years ago, some clients of
mine said they were going to Elko,
Nev., for a week to play music, for little
or no money, at something called a
“cowboy poetry gathering.” I think I
went slightly nuts. Managers don’t
really like to hear things like “play free
for a week.” It tends to make them
A couple of years later, I went to Elko
and my first “Gathering” … and I was
hooked. I’ve been back to the annual
event six or seven times since.
The 17th Annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering took place Jan. 27 – Feb. 3 in Elko. I
can truly say that it is one of the great events of its kind in North America.
Although more than 300 such events have sprung up over the years, Elko
remains an original.
Don’t be fooled by the word “poetry” in the title. The weeklong event brings
cowboy poets and musicians together from all over. Around 10,000 people invade
the little town of 35,000 in northeastern Nevada just to listen. They come to hear
stories of earth and sky, of horses and dogs and kids and people and the great
American West. And unlike many events that draw thousands of people who
come for the sake of the event itself, these people, from all over the world, come
to listen to the stories, in spoken word and in song.
What makes this Elko so special? A year ago I was standing in line for breakfast
when a lady came up to one of the poets I had heard the night before. She
proceeded to tell him how wonderful he was and asked how he accomplished
what he did. His answer summed up — at least for me — what the week was all
“Well, ma’am,” he said, “we just write it for ourselves and if other folks like it,
then that’s OK, too!”
I think that because I live in the world of commercial music — where everyone is
trying to do the “right thing” — this remark really struck home. Elko is an
expression of honesty — and isn’t that a treat?
David Skepner is an artist manager. His clients include western music favorites
Wylie & the Wild West and Joni Harms.