Cowboy poetry finds a voice at Heber’s Fair

 

Believe it or not, Utah is home to one of the largest cowboy poetry gatherings in the world.

 

Every November, thousands of cowboys sit down with thousands of city slickers to celebrate the roots of the great American West.

 

Cowboy poetry is a contemporary art form steeped in rich tradition. In the early days of the wild frontier, cowboys and ranch hands gathered around the campfire at the end of each work day to entertain each other by telling stories and singing folk songs.

 

Because illiteracy was so common, poetic devices like poor grammar, incomprehensible slang and slurred strings of words have become identifying marks of contemporary cowboy poetry.

 

To Mary Kelly, co-organizer of Heber City’s Cowboy Poetry Gathering for the past 17 years, the event is an essential part of keeping our modern society grounded.

 

“The gathering is part of our heritage, and we are trying to keep it alive,” Kelly said. “They’re not making any more cowboys.”

 

“We don’t want people to forget the cowboy heritage that established not only Utah but the West,” said Tom Whitaker, founder of the event.

 

The event is about remembering those that have gone before and the sacrifices they made in paving the way for the conveniences that we enjoy.

 

Whitaker organized Heber City’s first Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 1994 and had an audience of nearly 300 people. The gathering became an annual event, and in the past 17 years the audience has grown to almost 15,000.

 

Kelly attributes the rapid growth of the gathering to the ever-increasing prestige of the entertainment. This year’s lineup included Waddie Mitchell and Baxter Black, two of the most recognized cowboy poets in the world. Joining Mitchell and Black were the Bar J Wranglers, Riders in the Sky, Sons of the San Joaquin, Joey & Rory, Michael Martin Murphy, Suzy Bogguss, the Haunted Windchimes, Mike Beck and many, many more. Also, this year was the first to host a professional bull riding competition, which drew an even larger crowd than anticipated.

 

Bottom line, in the words of Tom Whitaker, “The best way to experience being a cowboy without being ‘a cowboy’ is to be entertained by real cowboys.”

 

So if you want to get in touch with your roots, slip on some boots, hitch a saddle on your cayuse and start getting ready for next year’s Cowboy Poetry Gathering. It will definitely be worth your time.

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