Before my first National Cowboy Poets’ Gathering, I assumed it would be nothing but white guys emulating Baxter Black – which is not bad. But the folks in Elko who put this event together are intentionally cosmopolitan. The first event I ever attended was a concert of Mexican corridos performed by artists from our neighbor to the south. My next event was a concert by the Cowboy Poets of Kyrgystan. Amazing Asian folk traditions expanded my horizons.
This year’s guests were from the Southeastern United States. That made sense. The Southeast has produced cowboy legends like the immortal Florida wrangler Bone Mizell. So my mind was open to the two Florida cowboy poets who opened tonight’s show, Swamp Tunes. The mediocrity of their verse was punctuated by base insulting rudeness and on one occasion an “inartful” racial slur. The dignity of Elko was saved only by my having failed to bring fruit to the event.
However, they were only the openers. The main act was a 5-man Black zydeco band from South Louisiana. Washboard and drum rhythms drove the accordion melody. The artists were more than talented. They were inspired and inspiring. Cajun music, kin to country, has its own charm, but this was zydeco -- a celebratory cousin to blues. The music was so aesthetically compelling I was lost in it. A truly spiritual experience. Someday we must have a zydeco mass.
When I stepped outside the Folklife Center, the music still pulsing in my body, snow was falling from a sky my poet friend Lyn Lifshin would call “onyx.” Life is good despite Florida poets.