Poem on the Range

The Arvada Center just wouldn't be itself come January without another Colorado Cowboy Poetry Gathering to flaunt: It's simply the rootin'-tootin'-est thing happening in town (this side of the concurrent National Western Stock Show, that is). The annual event offers four rustic days of campfire songs, stories, yodeling and a corral-full of old-fashioned poetry that rhymes, all inspired by a fast-disappearing cowboy heritage of cattle drives, bucking broncos and prairie philosophizing. Make plans (tickets go quickly) to get in on the fun, which gets under way Thursday, January 9, and continues through Sunday.

This year, Denver's own singing -- and swinging -- cowgirl Liz Masterson, who not only performs at the gathering with partner Sean Blackburn but helps organize the event, wants everyone to know that this cultural Stetson's not old hat yet, in spite of its strong fourteen-year run. Some of the musical highlights, she notes, include performances by such regional favorites as Zen cowboy Chuck Pyle and Western crooner Jon Chandler, as well as young Australian bush poets (the Wild West's Pacific Rim counterparts) Carmel Dunn and Jennifer Haig, who at ages nineteen and twenty demonstrate that literary range-roving is no thing of the past.

However, it's during the Friday and Saturday sessions, which feature separately themed programs held simultaneously on five stages throughout the day, that participants really become a part of the action. "It's like a five-ring circus," Masterson says. "You can go from room to room, and we'll stretch your imagination and emotions in every possible direction. One minute you'll be rolling in the aisles, the next thing you know, you'll be crying."

And you won't meet a nicer bunch of entertainers, she adds: "They're so humble about their ability to write. They just can't believe people come to hear them over and over again." But folks do, she says, because cowboy poetry is just so durned evocative: "A really good poet can write a poem about riding and make you feel like you're actually riding on the horse." Masterson also thinks cowboy poetry has the power to cure what ails you and everybody else these days, a ten-gallon order if we ever heard one.

"In our fast-paced world, where you even have to shred your mail, there's a real need to stay connected to past," she insists. "This is all about what made the West the West, and I don't want to see Colorado lose its rural roots. I think Denver's still a cowtown, and I hope it always will be."