Poetry, comedy, music and heaping helping of beans

2020 Colorado Cowboy Gathering Brings 20 performers to Golden


Jerry Cunningham is not the kind of guy who would’ve ever expected to end up on the board of directors of Golden’s annual Colorado Cowboy Poetry Gathering. After all, for a long time, this self-proclaimed city boy never even attended the event in the first place.

“I am the most fish out of water person when it comes to this kind of entertainment,” he said. “But when I finally came it was like an illicit drug — once you’ve tried it you can never forget it.”

Cunningham says his experience is a testament to the unique power of the 31-year-old celebration, which longtime performer Al “Doc” Mehl describes as “a chance to wind back the clock to a simpler time and come to know just a little bit of cowboy history and culture wrapped up in a performance art people will find unusual.”

The cowboy poetry on which the event is centered is a genre that utilizes rhyme and meter, is focused on storytelling, and dates back to the trail drives of the late 1800s. The original purpose of the art was practical as young cowboys, who were often illiterate, started to rhyme the stories they told around the campfire in order to better remember them. Such poetic storytelling eventually evolved into a unique artistic experience and celebration of western culture.

“You’ll hear a story that will literally bring tears to your eyes and then 20 seconds later you’re laughing harder than a nice belly laugh and then five seconds after that you are getting tingles just because of the humanity of what is happening on stage,” Cunningham said.

The Golden gathering, however, also includes western music and even a few performers who perform a mix of the two.

This year’s gathering, which will be held at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden from Jan. 16-19, will feature a mix of gathering veterans and new performers. Among the newcomers are two western bands, Carlos Washington Steel Horse Swing and the High Country Cowboys, an anomaly for the event that Cunningham said typically consists almost exclusively of individual performers.

Returning performers include Canadian poet Doris Daly, whose performances are often among the gathering’s highlights, Cunningham said.

“It’s amazing to hear someone stand on stage for an hour and tell you stories that sound like they have to be memorized and she does it seemingly just effortlessly,” he said.

Then there is Mehl, who will perform both original poetry and western music at the gathering.

“I am cut out of a different cookie cutter a little bit from most of the other performers,” he said. “I do more of a contemporary twist on the cowboy life with a little more of a look toward humor in the cowboy life.”

The gathering includes both daytime sessions, which consist of sessions built around various themes and feature all of the performers, and evening performances (and a Sunday matinee) featuring a smaller selection of performers. There is also a Thursday night sampler on Jan. 16 that will feature all of the performers.


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