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Cowboy Poetry Gathering returns this weekend, bringing poets and songwriters to Alpine

Carlos Morales
Marfa Public Radio
Organizers say the annual cowboy poetry event in Alpine is one of the oldest regional gatherings in the country.

For decades, Alpine's cowboy poetry celebration has brought together folk legends, cowboy poets and songwriters from the Big Bend and beyond.

The event is one of the oldest of its kind in the country, and this weekend, it returns to Alpine.

Marfa Public Radio's Julie Bernal recently spoke with Kay Nowell, who helps put together the annual event. They spoke about the celebration's deep history and what folks can expect this year.

Interview Highlights

On the event's roots

The first-ever cowboy poetry in the United States event took place in Elko, Nevada in 1985, which Nowell said "was supposed to be just a one-time deal." Despite that expectation, the celebration has continued every year since then and "is still going strong" with other events throughout the country now.

"It's like being around a campfire — and you're part of it."
Kay Nowell, Cowboy Poetry Gathering organizer

"I went to that first one in 1985," recalled Nowell. "I started writing poetry, rancher friends were asking me to do some. So I've written my own material, I performed in Nelko about five or six times and performed at the Texas gathering many times, and other ones all over the country," she said.

"So I've had a really neat look — from North Dakota to all over New Mexico, Texas, Arizona — at what these other gatherings are doing and met the most wonderful people in the world. I pinch myself every day at the folks I get to hang out with — it's a passion."

As far as the Texas event goes, Nowell said, it's one of the oldest regional gatherings in the country.

What to expect this year

For this year's event, Nowell said the lead performer is Lubbock-based musician Andy Hedges. She said he'll play songs from his latest album, "Roll On."

"You're all gonna get to see some of the best in the nation here at Alpine," said Nowell.

For first-time attendees wondering what to expect, Nowell said the celebration is just something you have to experience for yourself. "You can't explain it to people. They have to experience it.

"What they're going to be seeing is authentic," said Nowell. "It's real. And they get a peek into the world of these ranchers and cowboys."

On the event's importance

Nowell said the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Alpine is not only a celebration of cowboying and ranching, but also a way to preserve that culture and pass it on too.

"Everything changes and evolves, but what we're trying to do is keep that culture, the code, the lifestyle," said Nowell. "Because this is real, this is authentic. It's like being around a campfire — and you're part of it. I just find it magical."

Julie Bernal was Marfa Public Radio's Morning Edition Host from November 2022 to April 2024.