The 30th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

The 2012 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering; Jessica Brandi Lifland

By Savannah Barrett

Founded in 1985 by the Western Folklife Center, the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is one of the nation’s premier celebrations of the people and culture of the American West. This month marks the Gathering’s 30th anniversary, and will be focused on the next generation of the rural West. Each year the Gathering connects the rich cultural history of the west with its contemporary scene, telling this story across a range of art forms while also connecting these lessons to cowboys in international rural fields. Art of the Rural is proud to showcase its 30th Anniversary as the January feature on the Year of the Rural Arts Calendar of Events. 

From January 27 through February 1 in Elko, Nevada, the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering features poetry, music, fine western gear, films, workshops, dances and discussions focusing on Western culture, encouraging the next generation of cowboy artists, and working together to ensure the sustainability of the occupational and artistic traditions of the rural West.

The theme of the 2014 gathering is Expressing the Rural West—Into the Future! As a component of this theme the Western Folklife Center launched their first online spoken word poetry competition, Expressing the Rural West: Poetry of the Next Generation, on YouTube, and established a Facebook companion exhibit.  Poets between the ages of 18 and 35 were invited to submit videos performing their original compositions, all of which were required to have a rural focus. This is a pivotal moment for the Western Folklife Center, as they attempt to not only cultivate, but feature the next generation of the rural West. While the 2014 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is expressly focused on the next generation of cowboy artists, the Gathering will continue to address the challenges of rural life in the modern West through the presentation of poetry, music, film, and discourse of artists and audiences of all ages.

RW Hampton and JB Allen at the 1994 Gathering

As Darcy Minter, Communications Director of the Western Folklife Center, told us, “More than 50 poets, musicians and musical groups from the U.S. and Canada will perform on seven stages at four different venues.” The 30th Gathering line-up includes cowboy poets Baxter Black, Paul Zarzyski, Waddie Mitchell, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Joel Nelson, Doris Daley, Pat Richardson, Randy Rieman and many others.

“Music is as integral to the Gathering as poetry,” Minter stressed. This year’s roster of performers includes Ian Tyson, Michael Martin Murphey, Riders In The Sky, Don Edwards, Dave Stamey, Jeffrey Broussard & the Creole Cowboys, Caleb Klauder Country Band, Martha Scanlan and more.

The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering will include hands-on workshops in traditional western arts such as rawhide braiding, cinch-making, hat-making, silverwork, Dutch-oven cooking and more. Additional events include three western dances, panel discussions, open-mic poetry, and music sessions. Renowned animal welfare advocate, professor and author Temple Grandin will deliver the Gathering’s keynote address. For a complete list of 2014 participating artists and events, visit

Tickets to the 30th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering are on sale now, and can be purchased at, by calling 775-738-7508, toll-free 888-880-5885, or by stopping in to the Western Folklife Center’s ticket office, 501 Railroad Street, Elko.

Please mark your calendars for this fantastic event, check out the the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering’s story on the Atlas of Rural Arts and Culture, and report back to us at Art of the Rural to tell us about your experience! If folks will be connecting with social media while in Elko, please consider using #ruralarts to contribute to the national Year of the Rural Arts feed.  

Year small

THE YEAR OF THE RURAL ARTS is a biennial program of events, conversations, and online features celebrating the diverse, vital ways in which rural arts and culture contribute to American life. The Year is coordinated by Art of the Rural and organized by a collective of individuals, organizations, and communities from rural and urban locales across the nation.

The inaugural Year is a collaborative, grassroots effort designed to build steam over the course of 2014. To present a more equitable representation and a more comprehensive narrative of rural arts and humanities, all online features will be freely shared across websites and social media. For more information on the Year of the Rural Arts, visit:


Savannah Barrett is Program Director of Art of the Rural.