From The Lean-To: National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

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Yes, it's that time of year again. Forget the Thanksgiving turkey and the Christmas presents for loved ones. (Though, I beg you, don't forget the sweet potato pie.) 'Tis the season to start planning your trip to Elko, Nevada for the 28th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. This year, the festivities go down from January 30th to February 4th, and according to the good people at the Western Folklife Center, the event is “the nation’s greatest celebration of the American West, its people, culture and traditions.”

I first heard of the festival while doing an interview with Ramblin Jack Elliott a few years back. I was, and still am, a huge Louis L'amour fan, but I didn't know much about cowboy poetry at the time. Soon after, I went on the ol' internets and became transfixed by poets like S. Omar Baxter, Slim Kite, Bruce Chapman, and Bruce Kiskaddon. And sure, camping and hiking aren't nearly the same thing as being a cowboy, but the sentiment and love of open land sure is similar.

Programs at the 28th gathering will, not surprisingly, focus on the southwestern United States, specifically Arizona and New Mexico—which are celebrating their centennials next year. Nearly 50 poets, musicians, and musical groups from the U.S., Canada, and Australia will perform on seven stages at four different venues.

If you don't know much about cowboy poetry, do yourself a HUGE favor and go on over to to watch “Cowboy Poetry.” That movie. Wow.

Thank you to the Western Folk Life Center for providing the photos for this article.

Jeff Thrope is the editor and founder of Cold Splinters. For more ways to pretend you're sleeping under the stars instead of reading the Internet, visit and


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