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County may mull reviving Cowboy Poetry events

1/8/2013

By SCOTT AUST

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

Back in the old days — before television, radio or Internet — cowboys out wrangling a herd along the long and dusty trail for days on end would tell stories for entertainment.

"They learned when you tell a story over and over, everyone says they've heard it. But if you put it to rhyme and meter, it was a lot more fun and entertaining to listen to," Finney County resident Leonard Hitz said in an interview following Monday's Finney County Commission meeting.

Hitz approached the commission to generate interest in starting a Cowboy Poetry event for Finney County that would attract cowboy poets to the community and provide some fun entertainment.

For several years in the 1990s, there was a Cowboy Poetry event as part of Beef Empire Days, but it was discontinued after losing funding. Hitz said he wants to "rejuvenate" a similar event, though not necessarily attached to another event like Beef Empire Days.

"There's a lot of people who enjoy it and would come to it. It's telling a story, but it's cowboy life stories, country lifestyle stories," he said. "I think it's something that should probably stand on its own."

Cowboy poets like Baxter Black may have the most name recognition, but Hitz cites as influences classic, old time cowboy poets, now deceased, such as Bruce Kiskaddon and S. Omar Barker. He said there are gatherings around the country where poets and balladeers, who sing old cowboy and western songs, go to perform.

"I think cowboy poetry fits. We're cattle country. We're cowboys out here," he said.

Right now, Hitz envisions a Friday and Saturday event once a year with several performances, bringing in some well-known poets, as well as a few locals. Hitz estimated there are probably eight to 10 local poets who might be interested in performing.

"I know there isn't going to be a problem getting talent. I'll be having people call me wanting to come if I can get it going again," he said.

Hitz said that in the future, if the event gets up and running, large national sponsors might come along and help pay for it. But he doesn't think he could get a Wrangler-type sponsor until he has an actual event to show them.

Commissioners took no action on Hitz's idea, but did suggest trying to partner with the Finney County Historical Society and making a formal presentation to the Finney County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Hitz said he applied for funding from the CVB but did not receive an encouraging response, calling the discussion "futile."

Hitz estimated the budget for a Cowboy Poetry event would be around $17,000, though the amount could be pared back. He was non-committal about whether he would go back to the CVB.

"I'm going to continue pursuing it," he said. "I'm going to start slow. I want to build it."

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