Sunday, October 4, 2009

So Many Wranglers, So Little Time

Wranglers is a euphemism for cowboys and cowgirls - you know, horse wranglers, cattle wranglers... What did you think I meant?

The Nebraska Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Old West Days is held annually in Valentine Nebraska the first weekend in October. This year it was October 1 through 4. As I write this, many of the wranglers in attendance will be gearing up for the Trail Ride that closes out the event. 

As I check the weather in Valentine, I find it is overcast and 34 degrees, making me glad that I'm snug in my dining room riding herd on my blog rather than trying to convince stiff bones and muscles to climb up on a horse.  On the National Weather Service site, I find that the peak wind gust in Valentine on Friday was 55 mph. That's the kind of wind that cuts through you like a knife, coming as it did straight from the north. We fought that wind the entire way north, driving through some of the most beautiful country on earth, but that's another blog post.

The Nebraska Cowboy Poetry Gathering is divided into two main parts, the Sessions, made up of mostly amateur poets and musicians, and the Performances featuring the "professionals".  Since we heard some great performers during each type, I'm going to divide my blog up post likewise.

The host for the Saturday afternoon Performance was R.P. Smith, one of my favorite Nebraska poets. I was fortunate enough to be one of the first to purchase and have him autograph his first recording and book back in about 1993.  Now he's performed in about fourteen states and Canada, and it was a privilege to hear him once again.

He opened with his poem "The Song that Has No Tune", describing the incredible sounds that fill the ears of ranchers fortunate enough to live in the Nebraska Sandhills.

The coyotes sing without refrain
A haunting chorus of pleasure and pain
The damsels whistle, their suitors fight
And the voices rise into the night
With neither bass nor treble cleft
I praise my Lord that I’m not deaf
Beneath star filled sky and crescent moon
They sing the chorus of the song that has no tune...

The cold night air it stings my face
Cold tries to stop time in its place
And then I wonder if I know
Is it now or a hundred years ago
This song sung as its been sung for centuries before
I listen as I walk once more
Reappearing like the land of Brigadoon
This ancient song that has no tune
He performed later Saturday night at the final Performance, but by that time, we were headed back south.

We got to listen to Bob Petermann both during the Friday evening and Saturday afternoon Performances.  Bob was raised on a ranch in Montana that didn't get electricity until 1966 or telephone service until 1973. After wandering throughout the U.S., he and his wife Kay are now back on the ranch.  He specializes in the classics as well as performing original material that can make you picture the Montana Badlands in your mind, and feel his love of the land and lifestyle in your heart.
The Carr Family Cowboy Band hail from a ranch south of Whitman Nebraska, in the heart of the Sandhills, and you can hear their love of the ranching lifestyle in their music.

One of their signature songs is "The Broomstick Waltz". In it, you can experience the strength and loneliness of the women who helped settle the remote Sandhills.
Long ago my thoughts strayed
when a stick horse cowboy would be out on the plains
Through the screen door way across the room
My hard working mother would dance with her broom.
Go one two three one two three slide
One two three one two three sweep & glide
One two three one two three clear across the room
One two three one two three the arms of a broom...

Through hard times and lost dreams I'd see her smile
And the belle of the ball she’d be for awhile
With a scarf in her hair an apron in her hand
The fairest of ladies in this hardscrabble land...

She said you’re about as happy or sad as you want to be
Down through the years, I agree
When the riding is rough and I’m in a state of gloom
I go to the closet and get out a broom
"You're about as happy or sad as you want to be"... What great words of wisdom to live by.

It would be hard for words to describe the incredible baritone voice of Paul Larson. I encourage you to visit his website and order a CD - you'll be very glad you did. Whether he's singing one of the classic standards or an original composition, his voice  and talent shine. In perusing his website, it seems he can be found regularly performing at the Dakota Badland Outfitters. If you're in the area, it would be worth a visit.
Jon Chandler certainly doesn't need me to add to the accolades he's received - he was named 2009's "Best Living Western Musician" by True West Magazine, and his recordings have received the 2009 Western Writers of America's Spur Award for Best Song, Telly Awards, the Dalton Pen Award, Best of NAMA Merit Award and his "Westerns" was named "best Western CD". In addition, his fiction and non-fiction writings have received numerous awards and raving reviews.

He shared with us several songs inspired by his participation in the modern-day Hole In The Wall Gang", a group of adventurers who regularly ride the red rock and hole in the wall country of Wyoming.
The host of the Friday evening Performance and a performer Saturday afternoon, Eli Barsi is a native of Saskatchewan Canada, who now divides her time between Canada and Branson, Mo. Eli has ten recordings, three CMT videos and 11 charting radio singles. She is joined on stage by her husband who backs her up on bass, singing harmony and yodeling.
Doris Daley is traveling with Eli on this current tour. She has to be one of the most amazing wordsmiths I've ever heard. She says on her website:
For me, cowboy poetry is about passion, pride and privilege. Passion to write and recite well, pride in my western roots and a way of life that endures despite great odds, and a privilege to be out on the road meeting wonderful people all over the United States and Canada.
She certainly made lots of friends in Valentine, where I believe she said she appeared about five years ago. I'm very glad she came back this year to Perform Friday evening.
Jess Howard was the Mister's favorite poet of our trip to Valentine this year. He is a rancher, rodeoer, horseshoer and of course, poet. His poems definitely bring with them an air of authenticity. While I googled Jess and could find numerous references to his performances at festivals throughout the country, I couldn't find a link to a site with comprehensive information about him. I will refer you to R.P. Smith's website that features downloadable episodes of his radio show "Home Grown".  Scroll down to listing #208 for Jess Howard performing "Ducking the Law".

Thanks for stopping by and listening to my ramblings. The coffee is always on.

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