Dispatch from Nevada's cowboy poets confab

An older generation of artists looks for a younger set to take over the tradition.

 
Dom Flemons plays the bones with Andy Hedges on guitar at the 32nd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada.
Charlie Ekburg
The audience at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering practices harmonica.
Charlie Ekburg
The 32nd annual Western Folklife Center's National Cowboy Poetry Gathering just wrapped up in Elko, Nevada last week. According to event organizer Hal Cannon, when it began the festival was comprised primarily of ranchers and their families, but these days it tends to include a fair number of Western enthusiasts as well. "It used to be that if a cowboy poet talked about calving and mentioned a prolapse, everyone in the audience knew what he meant, but these days you can't be too sure," Cannon says. 

Although folklorists and poets are divided on whether that's a good or bad thing, Cannon says there's no denying that some of the festival's original participants are getting older, and a younger batch of artists and audience members alike -- some of whom are slightly more removed from the ranch -- are needed to keep the event going. One such youngster is Grammy award-winning musician Dom Flemons, who stopped by this year's gathering on his way to play Carnegie Hall, and hosted a sold-out workshop on playing the bones (that's cow rib bones, of course). 

Listen in on that session, and enjoy a poem from cowgirl poet Purly Gates in this episode of Range:

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