A Gathering and Buckaroo Fair
By Carla Boecklin
The history of cowboy poetry can be found embedded in Western American culture. Following a long lineage of hard working men, workers would gather by the fireside or huddle in their bunkhouses and recite to one another tales of hardship, history, and daily life on the ranch or cattle drives. These entertaining stories of cowboy values and practices were shared from lips to ears as evening pastimes. Amidst the crackling fires and howling coyotes, many cowboys bore witness to these oral anthologies as the sun set on their Western lifestyle.
While cowboy poetry was indeed born from the cowboy lifestyle and dates back to the 19th century, the tradition is still quite contemporary. In fact, a thriving community of cowboy poets and musicians performs annually in Heber City and Midway at the Heber Valley Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Buckaroo Fair, held October 31st through November 3rd. The performers and the events serve to remind audiences of the cowboy way of life, a heritage and legacy that helped settle Utah.
These cowboy poetry events range from one night performances to multi-day festivals. Some include full-scale dinners; others welcome guests, such as the ByU Philharmonic; others feature booths selling everything from saddles, to spurs, to hats, to chaps. One particularly unique event is the Heber Valley Railroad’s “Cowboy Poetry Express.” Enjoy an afternoon of featured artists performing throughout the train, showcasing their unique cowboy ingenuity. Cowboy Poetry and Heber Valley Railroad welcome all aboard the Heber Creeper train for live performances, laughs, and legends!
The Heber Valley Poetry Gathering first took place 19 years ago as a one-night event with a few hundred attendees and local cowboys swapping poems in the Midway town Hall. Now, more than 12,000 attendees come together across various venues in Heber Valley. The fair has become a meaningful part of the cowboy poetry community, welcoming new performers and honoring seasoned entertainers, and each year the event is eagerly anticipated months in advance.
Heber City and Midway continue to welcome the most renowned talent in North America and play host to an impressive roundup of performers whose clever nostalgic brand of expression and musical talents enchants audiences year after year. Some of this year’s performance highlights:
Baxter Black, a long-time fan favorite, is not only a cowboy poet but also a former large animal veterinarian and “entertainer of the agricultural masses.” He finds his inspiration in everyday life around him. “Every cowboy, rancher, vet, farmer, feed salesman, ag teacher, cowman, and rodeo hand has a story to tell, and they tell it to me,” says Black. “I Baxterize it and tell it back to ‘em!” Famous for his books, wit, and, even, a legion of “urban followers,” Black is considered by The New York Times to be “probably the nation’s most successful living poet.”
Miss Devon & the Outlaw are the 2013 winners of the prestigious New Horizons Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Western Heritage Museum. Miss Devon, aka Devon Dawson, personifies the “swingtime cowgirl,” a lively Western personality with sweet vocals and a vintage sock-rhythm guitar style. She’s also won a Grammy certificate as the voice of Jessie in a Walt Disney CD inspired by the movie Toy Story 2. Her partner, the Outlaw, aka Jessie Robertson, is the rowdier half of the two, taking on various personas and doling out a lot of charm. This duo delights both children and adults alike with harmonies, humor, and can’t-miss yodeling.
Lynn Anderson, known as a “singer’s singer,” is an American Music Award-, Country Music Award-, and Grammy Award-winning artist that boasts 17 gold albums, a Billboard Artist of the Decade (1970-1980) distinction, and 11 Number One singles (over 50 songs in the Top 40). Her “country- politan” style and string of hits made her both a bona fide country superstar and one of the top-ranked female vocalists in any musical genre, in history.
The fair kicks off on October 31st at the Midway Town Hall with live music and a steak dinner, and other events take place at Heber City’s high school and the Homestead Resort. Art shows, open microphones for beginners or enthusiasts, harmonica and yodeling classes, cowboy grub, and continuous music and poetry keep the energy flowing throughout the four-day festival.