There were pickup trucks in the parking lot and cowboy boots, hats and neckerchiefs on the stage and in the audience.
The occasion was the first Gathering of Cowboy Poets, held as a prelude to Lehi's annual Roundup celebration. Here, folks could almost taste the dust of a rodeo without getting near the arena and experience vicariously what it's like to slip off a cliff and grab a fortuitous pine branch on the way down.More than 200 townspeople and other interested folks assembled in the auditorium of the town's high school Wednesday evening for the cultural event sponsored by the Lehi Arts Council, headed by Mary Ellen Cash. She said she'd had so much fun getting ready for it that she hoped it would become a regular part of the annual community celebration.
More fun was in the offing once it got started. The cowboy poets did some free recitations in the afternoon as sort of a dress rehearsal for the evening's performance. That night, Provo's talented Dutton Family Band got paying customers in the mood with bluegrass music before the poets took the podium.
The poems were filled with cowboy vernacular - lots of "reckons" and "pertys" and the four-letter epithet that rhymes with well. What many lacked in meter, they made up for in sincerity and wit.
Kent Peterson, Ferron, opened with an amusing poem, "Reincarnation." He recited by heart the precise meter and rhyme of the verse, one of many he's written. Lehi's Fred Hardy had the tale of an Englishman riding a horse for the first time - told with a British accent.
Sam Stokes, Tremonton, took guitar in hand for an original song, "These Hands," and followed with a ridiculous ballad, Homer and Jethro's "Cold, Cold Heart." Hamilton Tiechert, a rancher in both Spanish Fork and Cokeville, Wyo., had the excitement and enthusiasm of a real storyteller in his poems.
C.N. Kerr, Tremonton, who's really a physician, shared his first effort at poetry, "A Cowboy Goes to College." It's the rhythmic tale of the naive young man who signed up for fencing and chorale and got something far different from what he expected.
Don Kennington, a horseshoer along with his brother Phil in Wyoming, had a versified warning to steer clear of baby skunks, and his brother admitted to a poem about "Smokey and the Blue-spotted Steer" that's "80 percent true."
The one cowgirl in the group, Lehi's Eva Johnson, gave a poetic tribute to the tranquility of West Canyon, a frequent abode during certain seasons of the year. Les Southam, a Pleasant Grove cowboy with the finesse of a practiced storyteller and the meter of a longtime poet, regaled the audience with "The Legend of Two-Gun Pete," whose feet were a formidable weapon. He pulled a pair of well-worn boots from his burlap bag, just to illustrate.
Duke Aikens, Kanab, recalled riding pack horses on a trail in Grand Canyon. Clay Calton, Lehi, paid tribute to the cowboy's wife with his voice and guitar, then preached against the evils of trying to herd cattle with an ATV - a definite insult to a cowboy's horse! Finley Bayles, from somewhere near Blanding, said he writes "situation poetry" - stuff from real experiences, dolled up to be read aloud.
The evening readings also included Bob Christensen, Syracuse, and Ken Calton, Lehi. Calton headed the display of cowboy and Indian artifacts and tack in a nearby room.
After hearing poetry and seeing the display, people were invited to join in an old-fashioned ice cream social. Next year organizers hope they have to order even more ice cream for the second annual Gathering of Cowboy Poets.