Elko – The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering ‑‑ the premiere festival celebrating the expressive arts of ranching and cowboy culture ‑‑ observes its 24th year beginning Saturday, January 26 and running through Saturday, February 2, 2008 in Elko, Nevada. This year, the Western Folklife Center, producer of this signature event, welcomes vaqueros from the Sonora region of northern Mexico and the western United States to the Gathering, where we will celebrate our shared legacies of land and livestock, enjoy our traditions of poetry and music, and explore the future of ranching culture and the West.
The 24th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering will also feature corridos, a traditional Mexican ballad popular in the rural ranching communities of Sonora, Mexico and also performed in Mexican-American communities across the United States. Corridos convey stories of places and people key to understanding a community’s social values and cultural heritage. And like cowboy poetry, older classic corridos continue to find relevance alongside newly composed corridos about contemporary concerns.
This Mexican cultural program is part of the Western Folklife Center’s effort to invite cowboys from other parts of the world ‑‑ including Australia, the British Isles, Mongolia, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and France ‑‑ to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering to share their culture with their counterparts in the U.S. “For several years now, we’ve been conducting these cultural exchanges, and they have become an important part of the Gathering,” explains Charlie Seemann, Western Folklife Center executive director. “Our guests teach us that we may be continents and oceans apart, but we share basic philosophies and principles common to horse and cattle culture. And despite language barriers, we can communicate through music, poetry, foodways and the other traditional arts that sustain and inspire us all.”
The Mexican program at the 2008 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering will feature rancher Don Beto Cruz, who will travel from the remote village of Cucurpe in northern Sonora to share his repertoire of corridos including “El Huaraqui,” a ballad about a good horse trainer who was thrown off his horse and killed, and “El Corrido de Luís Donaldo Colosio,” about the assassination of Colosio, a presidential candidate, and written and composed by Don Beto.
Cruz will perform with fellow Sonoran Jesús Garcia, who is known for his collection of songs about legendary vaqueros, horses and horse races, cattle rustlers and local tragedies. Members of the musical group Pablo y su Ventarron will perform songs from their home state of Jalisco, as well as their own songs about significant events taking place in their new home of Elko, Nevada.
In addition to these performers, the 24th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering will also feature the following programs related to Mexican ranching culture:
Presentations of Mexican culture would not be complete without food. The 2008 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering will offer workshops and demonstrations of traditional foodways from Mexico. The Savor Sonora cooking workshop will highlight the region’s thin, grand-sized handmade flour tortillas, carne asada and green chile salsa. Make a Mexican Home-Style Brunch will include traditional family recipes and stories.
Other workshops scheduled during the Gathering that focus on Mexican vaquero traditions include Horsehair Rope Making – Sonora Style with vaquero rope maker Jesús Garcia, a corrido songwriting workshop for youth presented by ethnomusicologist Juan Díes, and a Latin dance workshop for beginners. An evening dance will feature spirited south-of-the-border music including rancheras, polkas, waltzes and more.
The Western Folklife Center’s Wiegand Gallery will feature Vaquero!, an exhibit showcasing ranch-related photographs and hand-crafted artifacts of Mexican and Mexican-American vaqueros living and working in the Pacific Northwest, the Great Basin and the Sonora and Sinaloa regions of Mexico.
In an effort to encourage discourse and solutions to shared problems, ranchers from both sides of the border will come together in a roundtable discussion to consider common issues of environmental and economic sustainability, and to share characteristics unique to ranching in Sonora, Mexico.
Folklorist Norma Elia Cantú will give the 2008 Humanities Lecture. A professor of English at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Cantú has published extensively in the fields of folklore and literary studies. She will use her own family history and scholarship to connect vaquero culture and work style with that of the American cowboy and show how the poetry and literature of the West has been influenced by these traditions.
The purpose of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering ‑‑ known simply as “Elko” to many ‑‑ is to present and preserve the traditional and contemporary arts created by people living close to the land in the American West. Through poetry, music, stories, handcrafted gear, film, photography, food and more, the Western Folklife Center strives to convey the richness as well as the challenges of rural life in the West. In recent years, discussions of rural issues have become an integral part of the Gathering, as leaders in the conservation movement have come together with ranchers to find much common ground in an atmosphere of collaboration and concern for the future of the West.
Started in 1985 by a small group of folklorists, poets and musicians, the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering has become an annual ritual for thousands of people who value and practice the artistic traditions of the region, and are concerned about the present and future of the West. Hundreds of cowboy poetry gatherings have since taken hold across the West and the nation over the last 23 years, as the Elko Gathering has reinvigorated a tradition that never ceased to be a part of the lives of cowboys, ranchers and rural westerners. In 2000, the U.S. Senate recognized the cultural value of this tradition and the event responsible for its renaissance when it passed a resolution naming the Elko Gathering the “National” Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
The Gathering will feature performances by close to 60 poets, musicians and musical groups, including new faces and returning favorites (see attached list). Special exhibits, workshops, films, lectures, panel discussions, ranch dances and late-night jam sessions, all contribute to the depth, richness and authenticity of this one-of-a-kind event.
Major sponsors of the Gathering include the Bretzlaff Foundation, City of Elko, Community Foundation of Southern Arizona, Elko County Recreation Board, Ford Foundation, International Game Technology, National Endowment for the Arts, Nevada Commission on Tourism, Nevada Humanities, Nevada Arts Council, The Southwest Center at the University of Arizona, the Wallace Foundation, and many more.
The mission of the Western Folklife Center is to enhance the vitality of American life through the experience, understanding, and appreciation of the diverse cultural heritage of the American West.