Western Folklife Center (Elko, NV)


Close-up of performers on stage

Cowboy singers and storytellers Glenn Ohrlin (1985 NEA National Heritage Fellow) and Walt LaRue recount their early days of rodeo on a special show at the 20th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. Photo by Chris Simon

Every January since 1984, the Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nevada has hosted more than 8,000 “cattle people, rural folks, poets, musicians, gear makers, western enthusiasts, and urbanites tired of the teeming city” for the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering (NCPG). A collaboration of folklorists, working cowboys, and ranch folks, the NCPG provides eight days of activities showcasing the varied traditions of the American West, including cowboy music, poetry, and expressive arts of the ranching culture. More than 200 independent events have spawned from the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, helping to spark a national renaissance in the cowboy arts.

In FY 2003, the Western Folklife Center received an NEA Heritage/Preservation grant of $50,000 to support the 20th anniversary of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which took place on January 24-31, 2004. The grant aided four components of the anniversary event: the reunion of performers and folklorists reaching back to the original gathering, an exhibit featuring archived materials from the Western Folklife Center, a commemorative program booklet, and video documentation of the anniversary gathering for historical record.

More than 100 performers participated in the event, including NEA Literature Fellow J.V. Brummels and Glenn Ohrlin, the first cowboy singer ever to receive an NEA National Heritage Fellowship. The accompanying exhibit, open until June, featured an extensive collection from the Western Folklife Center, including photographs, video, sound recordings, poetry manuscripts, and related objects. The commemorative booklet included interpretive essays on the cowboy poetry movement and critical essays on cowboy poetry as oral literature, which has extended its value as an historical publication.

An estimated 8,800 people attended the 20th anniversary of NCPG, and thousands more listened through live Internet broadcasts on the Web site.

(From the 2003 NEA Annual Report)