Elko Favorites

When you come to your senses and put a winter Elko pilgrimage on your Must Do list, here are some favorite bits to pique your interest.

Read more about the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering here. 

Favorite Alternative Event to the NCPG:

At the Outside Circle Show. Photo by Ivan Agerton, Lost River Film

If the NCPG is school, then the Outside Circle Show is recess. More precisely, it is a recess ruled by devil-may-care rebels with playground energy. This year, the 6th annual show kicked off to a packed house at 10 pm (okay, more like 11 or 1130 pm) at the Star Hotel and went until sunrise or so. The motley mix of Montanans, Nevadans, Coloradans, Texans, Kansans, and others performed for another six hours the next night, too, with a mix of solo acts and bands, crammed into a corner of the Star’s dining room.

Organizers Nicole Grady and Justin Reichert raised several thousand bucks (through an auction of gear from renowned makers including Sarah Douglas Hagel, John Wright, Douglas Krause, Mike Brummet, and John Willemsma) to support scores of musicians who are also working cowboys.

While the NCPG program is refined and honed by folklorists, the Outside Circle is raw. “It’s about the contemporary working cowboy,” said Luke Darling, one of the hard-strumming performers. “It’s rural. It’s real – songs about broken down pickups, bad weather, and dealing with animals,” said Darling. The performers aren’t just musicians but “are some of the handiest some ‘bucks around. These guys are hands. We’re part of a unique subculture that doesn’t have a voice. Now, Justin [Reichert] has given it a voice,” he said.

Read Nicole Grady’s op-ed here. 

Mike Beck, a veteran NCPG performer, stopped by the Star. He’s watched the event grow over six years and called it a ‘Buckaroo Burning Man’. Call it whatever. Take an afternoon nap, enjoy a Picon Punch (or three) and check it out.

Favorite Workshops:

Marek Bennett teaches a workshop and plays banjo

The past few years, I’ve allowed a few extra Elko days to take in NCPG workshops. I made a beaver felt hat under the three-day tutelage of Chaz Mitchell and Roy Jackson, and this year, I sprung for the Cowboy Comics with Marek Bennett.

Bennett is an artist and musician from New Hampshire who draws and plays banjo with equal parts ease and awesomeness. As a teacher, he’s laid-back, inspirational, idea-filled, and energized, the kind of guy who makes you feel good about your novice attempts and has gentle, informative hints for upping your new cartoon game.

Over two days, I illustrated a poem of mine (in fact, the only poem I’ve ever written) and crafted it into a mini cartoon booklet. Fellow students did the same and Western Folklife now has its first archival entries of cowboy cartoons.

Favorite NCPG Performances:

Shadd Piehl

I make a point to see veteran performers for whom I have affection. This year did not disappoint as I enjoyed sessions with Paul Zarzyski and fine horsemen Randy Rieman and Joel Nelson.

This year, I vowed to do a better job seeing performers I’d missed in the past or who were new to the Gathering. Some of my new faves:

Shadd Piehl – a funny poet and musician from North Dakota.

Andy Hedges – is from Texas and runs the podcast, Cowboy Crossroads.

Colter Wall – who comes from country where “the tallest buildings are grain elevators” in Saskatchewan. His song, Sleeping on the Blacktop was on the soundtrack of Hell or High Water.

Jake Riley – who called time between fall and winter “amber tinge on winter’s fringe” and who told an endearing story about teaching horse colors to his son, “What’s that one?” Jake asked, pointing to a palomino. “A jalapeno!” said his boy.

Forrest Van Tuyl, aka An American Forrest, writes songs and performs Western/folk-ish music, nurtured by long stints working on a pack outfit and riding in the backcountry.

Forrest Van Tuyl

Lyrics from his song Burnin’ Starlight:

It’s a quarter til tomorrow
my pony knows the way back home
my faith in God & Mules is strong
& my horse is almost broke
I will go where I am pointed
where I’m paid what I am owed
where my remuda’s fit for workin’ & my saddle’s never cold 


In the NCPG’s Western Mercantile, my favorite trade exhibitors were Craig Krzyski’s Big Sky Antler, Chaz Mitchell’s Custom Hatz, knives made by John Mabe, and Brian Nelson’s Montana Metal Arts.

Across the Railroad Street parking lot from the Western Folklife Center, you will find J.M. Capriola’s, a legendary gear shop. Don’t be deterred by the array of gift  items at the front of the store. Capriola’s has a great selection of jeans, tops, ropes, bosals, mecates, saddles, etc. I bought a lovely set of leather hobbles, made upstairs in their busy leather shop.


Odeh’s Mediterranean Restaurant (the owners are from Palestine and speak English, Hebrew, Arabic, and other languages) for fabulously spicy sandwiches and pistachio baklava.

McAdoo’s for breakfast or lunch: fresh croissant with bacon, greens, avocado, egg and aioli. Yummy! Good coffee and delectable sweets..

Coffee Mug – an all-day café with traditional fare and friendly, no-fuss staff.

Star Hotel – a renowned Basque restaurant. Along with seafood and beef specialties, it serves up a mean rendition of the Picon Punch, a northern Nevada drink (Picon liqueur, brandy, and a dash of grenadine, served in an Irish coffee glass, on the rocks with a lemon twist, according to Star owner Scotty Ygoa).

Favorite Lines:

DW Groethe: February is the worst. Last year it was 83 days long. 

Ryan Fritz: It was a cow on a mission. She could smell a cowboy from a mile away.

Gail Steiger honoring his horse, Whistle: I got him into a lot of fixes, but he got me out of them.

Randy Rieman, on his friend, Todd: He was thin. Looked like a thumbtack when he had his hat on.

Joel Nelson, on poetry recitation: It’s earth-friendly poetry. All the words have been recycled.

Other Favs:

The Elko Daily Free Press does a great job of covering the area and the NCPG.

One of these years, I’m going to take the train to the Gathering. Amtrak’s California Zephyr route goes right through town from both directions, the California coast and points East, to Chicago.

I traveled with dogs and appreciated the various parks, fields, and open spaces available to exercise them off leash. Other dog owners found it easy to run their pups, too, and most picked up after themselves. Thank you, Elko.

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One Comment

  1. You make it all sound so fantastic! I’ll have to put this on my bucket list. Thanks for bringing the event to life for all of us that couldn’t make it there.

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