Golden caught its annual case of cowboy fever last weekend as cowboy poets and musicians from across the West descended on the city for the 31st annual Colorado Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
For many of those in attendance, the event is an annual ritual that is not to be missed and worth traveling to at great distance, even as cowboy poetry might strike most others as an anachronism in today’s world (that is if it’s eliciting anything other than blank stares).
So what keeps these poets and musicians coming back year after year? For many, attending such gatherings comes down to keeping the memory of the cowboy culture alive.
Al “Doc” Mehl, a performer who traveled to this year’s gathering from Alberta, Canada, said cowboy poetry has a fascinating history that began with illiterate cowboys telling stories around the campfire and rhyming them to better memorize them that is worth remembering.
“It’s that heritage that these gatherings are trying to recapture and remember and help people relive some of those times that aren’t completely gone but are hidden more than they ever were,” Mehl said.
That way of life remains important to many of the performers who attend the gathering spent time working on ranches and in other cowboy environments in their youth.
“I rodeoed for a lot of years and these are the same guys,” said Vic Anderson, a western singer and yodeler who returned to the gathering after a several year hiatus. “I mean it’s not the exact same people but they have all the same mindset and are cut out of the same cloth.”
But one does not necessarily to have spent time in ranching or rodeo to become a cowboy poet or musician.
“Some of us maybe never were cowboys but they are still cowboys in their own way,” Anderson said.
Whatever their backgrounds, Mehl said there is a sense of camaraderie and community among the gathering’s participants that is one of the biggest draws of cowboy gatherings in general and Golden’s in particular.
“This is true at every (gathering) but I think it’s more true here that there’s a family feel and just a wonderful friendship that develops between the performers,” he said. “And we get to share those stories on stage and play off each other’s humor and sometimes jump in and play a long with each other.”
Mehl said that sense of familiarity is particular evident in the evenings after the scheduled performances when many of the performers will gather to jam and tell stories until the later hours of the night.
But while those who attend the gathering seem to love it, they admit it can be hard to get younger generations to learn about cowboy poetry, even if many find they like it once they do.
“It’s a dinosaur already,” said Rex Rideout, a longtime participant and co-organizer of the gathering.” it’s a small group of people that are totally devoted to it. Nobody is going to get rich doing it, it’s just something we like to do.”
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