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.
Monday, January 25, 2010
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So glad you are blogging about the Gathering! I'm the Communications Director for the Western Folklife Center. If you see me walking around with my green tag, please introduce yourself to me. I'm sending your blog to my dad who is a retired episcopal priest living in Port Townsend, WA. He will get a kick out of it. He has never been to the Gathering (yet).
Darcy Minter/Western Folklife Center
Hi Dan, I used to go to the gathering regularly many years ago when I had family in Elko. I love it. Our homes are lined with all their posters. Its a blast.
Darcy, I am glad you are glad I blog about the Gathering even though I trashed the Florida poets. The zydeco band way more than made up for them. And the Waddie Mitchel/ Richard Elloyan opener was the best! I had to drive south on Wednesday but will be there for the 2nd half of the Gathering next year. I'll look for your geen tag.
Matthew, I never knew you had an Elko connection. Wonderful! I love it when I discover these connections -- like Ely people in Reno and Fallon. A lot of folks in Las Vegas seem to know nothing about the rest of Nevada. They are missing a lot of fun.
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