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Road Trip to Elko: Cowboy Poetry VII

It took much of Thursday morning to edit photos and compile our thoughts about the previous day. Fortunately our first event wasn’t until 1:00 pm: a Members-only (of the Western Folklife Center) show billed as the Pauly Wally Doodle Show, with legendary poets Paul Zarzinsky and Wally McCrae. Not only did our press passes get us into this exclusive show, the seats were front row, center; we found ourselves seated next to Wally’s wife and daughter! Between poems and good-natured ribbings, these two old friends covered the gamut. Everyday life, facing death, the ranch, and family were continuous threads.

We stopped for a quick bite at the Flying Fish, what has to be the only Sushi bar/Thai/Italian restaurant and steakhouse that I have ever heard of! The sushi was great, and the place was packed!

Then on to another sold-out show with Cowboy Celtic from Alberta, Canada, where our press passes again provided entrée. A pair of local bagpipe players opened the show, then, accompanied by Celtic harp, a narrator told the history and connections between the drovers of Scotland and what we today know as the cowboy culture of the American West. Their music interwove old ballads with new songs; the content had ancient and haunting roots. Again, life and death, battles and tragedies, fate and God’s hand were present in the lyrics. Liz Masterson (“Songbird of the Sage,”) and a friend of the band, asked if I could send them photos of the production—which was beautifully staged—no other press were covering this show!

We stopped briefly to take in a show of fine-art saddle- and gear-makers, western clothing and jewelry. Styling is an important part of this culture, too!

Back at the Western Folklife Center to connect with the only working wifi in town…the central gathering place, the Pioneer Saloon, was so packed that we setup the computer on a little table in a corner of the ladies room downstairs (“Are you in line?” “No, just online!”) A lovely fiddle player, too shy to jam upstairs with the pros, tuned up her fiddle and treated us to a song in the acoustics of the tiled ladies room. We joked, “Live, from the ladies room at the Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nevada…” as amused women passed us by on their way in and out.

This shot from the Convention Center proves we’re not the only ones making new friends this week…

Reports sent and e-mails answered, we nabbed two chairs at a table upstairs with Australian poet and sheep-shearer Milton Taylor and Cam and Donabell (DB), a retired couple from Pennsylvania here for their fifth time. It didn’t take long for the conversation to transition into reciting favorite scriptures once Cam and I discovered our mutual family roots in the United Brethren faith.

Then Marty, Jeannette and Gary—our new friends from—gosh, was it just yesterday?—showed up. Marty had been thinking about the question we’d posed about spirituality in cowboy poetry and culture and shared his thoughts, along with the admission that he came back every year because this event, both the poetry and the people, filled a deep spiritual need. As we listened to the musicians from Hot Club of Cowtown jam late into the night, we continued what seems to be the local tradition here of swapping tales, sharing lives, and having the kind of deep conversations reminiscent of college dorm days: What’s your story? Why are we here? What’s the meaning of life? What role does God play in your life? And now, time for bed, if we’re going to make it through tomorrow’s packed schedule!

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