Gwen Petersen: In a Sow’s Ear 2-6-12
February 6, 2012
Question: In the cyclone speed of political correctness and social change occurring in today’s world, what is one way of keeping cowboy culture alive? Answer: Cowboy Poetry and Cowboy Songs.
You can bet your boots that Miles City, Mont., is cowboy country. Widely known for its outstanding Community College and its annual bucking horse sale, Miles City has now created its first Cowboy Poetry Gathering: Cowboy Up at Wintercamp. Ramrodded by Jane Bower, Cowboy Up at Wintercamp was held in the historic Olive Hotel January 20-21, 2012.
The Olive is more than a hundred years old. Developed to accommodate early settlement and commerce, the hotel became the place where ranchers and cowboys headquartered when shipping cattle. Walk through its hallways and you can almost hear the jingle of spurs on cowboy boots of times past. Holding the first Cowboy Up Gathering at the Olive was a natural fit. The hotel even went the extra mile and housed poets and pickers gratis.
Throughout the weekend, you could listen to poets and pickers saying their poems and pickin’ their songs in the lobby, in the poker room and in the lounge. But the stories, poems and songs were not confined to the Olive. On Friday, Slim McNaught entertained at the College Rodeo dinner at noon and again at the annual Miles City Town and Country Club Banquet Friday evening.
Saturday morning began in the lobby with a breakfast for all the performers. Andrea, vivacious manager/clerk of the Olive hails from England. She was everywhere making sure the coffee pots were full, chatting up everybody. She was thrilled with the opportunity to listen to poems and songs. Because she couldn’t get away from the desk to attend the How To Write Cowboy Poetry Workshop, Andrea was doubly pleased when the workshop leader gave her one of the instruction booklets. Who knows, perhaps at the next Cowboy Up, she’ll have a poem of her own to share!
Boot-stomping music reverberated all weekend. Bob Peterman’s wry twists on songs had everyone grinning. Steve Hughes along with Stan Wall can make guitar and mandolin music better than what you’ll find in Nashville.
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Owen Badgett, a long-time Gatherings participant said his poems with the verve of the true cowhand.
Marie Scoville, knows what it takes – her poetry reflects her wry humor and sound thinking of the ranch woman’s contribution to “cowboy up” or in her case “cowgirl up.”
The sessions continued all day topped off with an evening concert held in the Elks Club. Gwen Petersen and Leslie Keltner, long time cowgal pals, opened the show ahead of headliner, Ken Overcast.
Gwen from Big Timber, Mont., has produced many a Gathering in her home town. Her poetry tends to lean heavily on the humor side of the fence with a bit of nostalgia thrown in here and there. As a “musician,” she ain’t, but that does not seem to stop her from abusing her guitar.
Leslie from Cody, Wyo., is trail boss of Runumuk Cowgirl Productions. She turns out the annual Cowboy Songs held each April in Cody. An awesome poet and twice awesome singer and songwriter, Leslie wowed the Miles City audience. Her ballad, “Waltz Among the Stars,” brought one woman to tears. She ended her segment by calling her teen age daughter up on stage. The pair of them sang – acapella – “I’ll Fly Away.” The audience came to its collective feet applauding.
Crowning the evening’s entertainment Ken Overcast thrilled, entertained and had the crowd roaring with laughter. The icing on the cake was the fiddle music of Ken’s granddaughter, Faith Halingstad. She made her fiddle moan, shout, cry and whisper soft as a butterfly’s kiss. And she isn’t even of age yet!
Ken’s final poem about the tribulations of a cowboy dealing with grafting a calf onto a cow had the audience holding its collective sides. Ken’s energy is boundless, his enthusiasm astounding, his music inspiring and his athletic performances of some of his poems is … well, words fail.
Here’s the thing about Cowboy Poetry Gatherings: They tell the stories of life lived on the land, raising crops and critters. To quote Jane Bower, “The depth and heart of the story behind the poetry of the men and women who say their poems is what a Cowboy Poetry Gathering is all about.”
Mark your calendars for a real western whoop-up on the third weekend in January next year. If the creek don’t rise, the snow don’t drift and you’re still on top of the grass, you won’t want to miss the second Miles City Cowboy Up at Wintercamp.