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It's Not a Festival. It's the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Tom Michael of KRTS interviews a vaquero from northern Mexico, in Brewster County, Texas, August 2005. (Caroline Oman)

For the past 29 years, cowboy poets have gathered in Alpine on the campus of Sul Ross State University. It’s called the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering and it kicks off today.

Doris Daley has been coming to this event in Alpine for 13 years. It’s smaller, and she thinks homier, than similar events across the country.
And here at Alpine, Texas, it’s a gathering-up of old friends and new friends, a Western hug and a Western howdy. There’s nothing razzle-dazzle about Alpine. None of it is for show. It’s more like a family gathering.
And it’s not a festival – as organizers will tell you - it’s a gathering. One of them, Bill Brooks, says it’s really about the performers doing their thing. The audience just happens to be there.
Because we have been true to our mission since Day One. And that is to make it kind of a reunion; thus, the gathering name – for them – then invite the public to come hear them.
Brooks is the M.C. for the kickoff event on Friday, which is held in the somewhat sterile environment of a school auditorium.
Ideally, we sit around the campfire and recite poetry and sing songs. We just happen to do it on a stage.
Performers are here from a dozen U.S. states and Canada. Audience members attend break-out sessions in classrooms to learn more about cowboy poetry and western music.

But outside of the classrooms, It’s what you picture. Cowboy hats and handlebar mustaches. And every morning begins with coffee, eggs and biscuits served from a chuckwagon. Women in bandanas carrying colorful guitars, like Eli Barsi, whose been performing here for the past 4 years.
It’s important to us to do our part our small part in preserving our Western heritage. So we’re doing it with our poetry or music: Western sensibilities and the rural sensibility and lifestyle at these cowboy gatherings.
There are other gatherings. The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, is the granddaddy of them all. It’s been around for more than 30 years. Founder Hal Cannon remembers its launch.
Well, to start out it was a free event, and it was mostly ranch people that came. There were about a 1,000 people. It was a funny combination of folklorists, cowboys; and a bunch of press showed up. I sent a press release out and it just surprised the heck out of us.
Academics and cowboys may make strange bedfellows, but it worked.
It almost felt like uncorking a bottle of some ancient wine or something. Because people had not heard it before but back then it wasn’t a public thing. It was more in bunkhouses and around campfires. It was an insiders’ deal.
Three years ago, Hal Cannon was the keynote speaker in Alpine. And in some ways, the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering remains just that - an insiders’ deal.


Former KRTS/KXWT News Director