Each year the Heber Valley Western Music and Cowboy Poetry Gathering dozens of performers come from all over the United States to perform old and new cowboy poetry as well as country western music. I could start rattling off a bunch of performers, but if you were like me, you wouldn’t recognize very many. Rather than trying to impress you by dropping names, but believe these names are well known and revered names in the western circles, let me paint you a picture of an event that is worth your time and the price of the ticket.
If you were ever like me, at some point in your life you wanted to be a cowboy. There is something magical and noble about the idea of riding a horse on a dusty trail on an old fashioned cattle drive, or courageously holding on for dear life for eight seconds atop a bucking bull. The poets and song writers of cowboy poetry took me back to that childhood dream and had me thinking of the now famous words penned by country artist Toby Keith – “I should’ve been a Cowboy.”
More than just keeping the traditions of campfire songs and storytelling alive, Heber Valley Cowboy Poetry is just plain fun! I will always contend that live music will always trump the perfectionistic performances of a piece of plastic being read by a laser. There is something to be said of the human element that a live band brings to the atmosphere that really gets you to tap your toes and clap to the beat.
Take the “Sweet Back Sisters” for example, they played some great country tunes with a flare and a presence that even if you didn’t grow up listening to western swing you would find yourself with a smile on your face and a toe tapping in your boots as I did.
Now I’ve said the words “poetry” and “poet” a few times, but don’t worry this isn’t what you’re thinking. Think instead of the stories and poems being passed down from father to son, or mother to daughter you would hear from humble folk sitting around a campfire. Just like in life some stories we would pass on would be somber and emotional, while others would be lighthearted and funny enough to bring tears to your eyes.
As the crowd and I waited for the main act on Saturday night we were treated to the poems of Andy Nelson, a poet from Wyoming. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard. His first poem was about how life and marriage in particular can feel like a horse race with horses like “Marital Bliss” shooting out of the gate only to fade away to “Mortgage Payment” and “The Honeymoon is Over.” After the crowd had sufficiently chuckled and was primed, Nelson’s next poem split our sides with an ode about the misunderstandings that might rise between a father and a teenaged daughter and their generational definition of “thongs.” I’ll let your imagination take over from here.
Finally, you can expect to be thoroughly entertained at cowboy poetry. Saturday night of cowboy poetry always has the main headliner for the entire gathering. This year it was Home Free, a country a cappella group from Minnesota who won the last season of NBC’s the “Sing Off.” Talk about a show that is truly entertaining from the first chord to the final encore. These five guys are so talented that at one point I asked myself - “Are they really doing that all WITHOUT instruments?” There were several times when the bass vocalist hit such deep and low notes that it shook the entire auditorium. Now that’s deep! And to prove to all of us that what they do is real the percussionist performed a solo that was remarkable. Suffice it to say that no one left Home Free without a smile.
So, next year when you start hearing those radio commercials and seeing ads for the Heber Valley Western Music and Cowboy Poetry Gathering remember it’s more than what you think and definitely worth you time.