THE COWBOY WAY
This January, experience Elko’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
WRITTEN BY SUE EDMONDSON
PHOTO COURTESY OF WESTERN FOLKLIFE CENTER
In 1985, when a few folklorists and poets put together a cowboy poetry event in Elko, Nev., they figured it would be the first and last. Now scheduled for the 31st time (Jan. 26 – 31), and officially designated by the U.S. Congress as the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, this event is a roundup of poets, musicians, cooks, and speakers (many internationally recognized), and is attended by thousands.
“We wanted to create an event that highlighted the revered ranching tradition of cowboy poetry, from the classics to newly created works, in a place with a rich ranching and cowboy heritage,” says Meg Glaser, Western Folklife Center artistic director.
That first gathering in 1985 brought in more than 500 people, far exceeding organizers’ expectations. They also underestimated the reactions they would get from the performers.
“They were so excited to meet so many other cowboy poets, the energy became a motivating force to continue,” Glaser says.
“The event got people talking about their concerns,” says WFC communications director Darcy Minter. “While the works are based on tradition, they speak to the challenges ranchers and farmers face now.”
Organizers realized they had a unique opportunity to reach this audience. They added speakers, panels, and workshops to the lineup, covering hot topics such as conservation, land management, and economics.
“It was a natural to add workshops on traditional ranching skills, like rawhide braiding, silversmithing, and cooking,” Glaser says. “The cooking workshops are very popular. Most of the cooks are cowboys, so there’s a lot of storytelling going on.”
What to expect
This year’s event features more than 50 performers, a variety of shows, dances, dinners, workshops, ranch tours, and the opportunity to shoot the breeze with some pretty famous folks.
“It’s a very friendly, communal event,” Minter says. “Elko is the kind of place where you hang out with performers and speakers.”
Add chuck-wagon cook, cowboy, storyteller, and poet Kent Rollins to the list of friendly faces. Rollins doesn’t call himself a chef, even though he’s appeared in cooking shows on the Food Network, NBC, and PBS, and authored a new cookbook, A Taste of Cowboy, along with his wife, Shannon. If his cooking workshops at the gathering are full, catch him afterward.
“I enjoy talking with all the people,” Rollins says. “It gives me a chance to share history through food. I joke that if you hire me, I’ll burn your food and your ears at the same time.”
Look for shows, dances, and a traditional Baja-style cooking workshop by vaqueros from this year’s featured cowboy cultural group from Mexico’s Baja California Sur.
The keynote speaker, renowned food and farming activist Gary Nabhan, is sure to spur lively conversations. It’s his fourth time to attend.
“He loves the Cowboy Poetry Gathering and is excited to bring his research to our audiences,” Glaser says. “I think he’s optimistic about the good work done in the last 20 years to bring ranchers and conservationists together.”
Located near the breathtaking Ruby Mountains, the town comes alive during the weeklong festival with Western art and gear shows, jam sessions and entertainment at local establishments, and special museum exhibits. Don’t miss food opportunities — The Star Hotel is famous for its Basque food.
Whether you’re looking for pure entertainment, challenging discussions, cultural education, or the chance to chat with interesting characters, you’ll find it at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
The 31st Annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering will take place Jan. 26 – 31, at locations around Elko, Nev. The Western Folklife Center website has all the information you’ll need, from this year’s program to lodging to activities around town. Buy tickets online or call 888-880-5885. For details, visit http://www.Westernfolklife.org, click on Events, then find the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering tab.
Freelancer Sue Edmondson writes for publications in Nevada and California. She’s a fan of cowboy poetry, and an even bigger fan of cowboy cooking.
Kent Rollins’ Sourdough Starter
4 cups warm water
1 package dry yeast
⅓ cup sugar
4 cups flour
1 large russet potato, peeled and quartered
Add warm water to 1-gallon crock jar. Whisk in yeast and sugar and let sit for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in flour. Drop in potato pieces. Cover with towel and let sit on counter for 12 to 24 hours, stirring halfway through.
Before using, whisk starter briskly. Add warm water or flour if needed to achieve pancake-batter consistency before use.
Starter can be substituted for any recipe that calls for milk or buttermilk. Rollins generally keeps it for a week, but it’s good as long as the potato stays intact. Stir once a day. When 3 cups of starter have been used, whisk in 1½ cups warm water, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 1½ cups flour. It’s ready to use immediately, or wait 6 to 12 hours for a greater sourdough taste.
Kent Rollins’ Sourdough Biscuits
(Makes 16 to 20)
3 cups sourdough starter
1 package dry yeast
4 to 5 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
⅓ cup vegetable oil
2½ tablespoons baking powder
2½ to 3 cups flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease large baking pan with side walls. In large bowl, dissolve yeast with starter. Whisk in sugar and let sit for one minute. Whisk in salt, oil, and baking powder.
Slowly stir in flour until it forms soft dough. Turn dough out onto floured surface and roll to about ½ inch thick. Cut dough with biscuit cutter and place in pan, close together so biscuits rise up and not out. Cover with wax paper and let rise in warm place until nearly doubled in size.
Uncover and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.