Traffic crawling to a standstill to allow a cattle drive to come through is a fairly common sight in Montezuma County, Colo., and you have a good chance of seeing a cowboy on horseback headed into town, maybe to get some groceries or perhaps just to sit at the saloon for a spell.
The cowboy tradition is alive and kicking in the Four Corners region, and Montezuma County is celebrating by hosting the first annual Cowboy Gathering of the Four Corners at several venues in and around Cortez, Colo., beginning Thursday, July 31 and continuing through the weekend, culminating in a Cowboy Church service on Sunday, Aug. 3 at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds. Cortez is approximately two hours driving time southeast of Moab.
All of the daytime shows are free, with the highlight of the weekend being the Friday night show at the fairgrounds, priced at $15 for adults, $10 for children ages 8 to 14 and free for children 7 and under. Friday night’s show will feature many of the headlining artists from throughout the weekend playing together, with special appearances by “Cowboy Thatch” and “The Bear River Buckaroo”. Tickets can be purchased in advance at Geisinger Feed Grains in Cortez.
Each night throughout the weekend will be capped by a jam session. On Thursday night, Koko’s Friendly Pub & Grill will be showcasing the stockmen and after Friday’s main event, the cowboys will be crooning together at the Fairgrounds. After Saturday’s festivities, the wranglers will be warbling at Jimmer’s Back Country Bar-B-Q in downtown Cortez.
20 year-old rising country music star Kristyn Harris is one of the main attractions of the gathering, fresh off of a laundry list of accolades achieved in the last two years including the 2014 Academy of Western Artists Female Performer of the Year, the 2013 Western Music Association Cowboy Swing Album of the Year for “Let Me Ride” and the 2012 Female Yodeler of the Year. Having started playing music just six years ago, Harris is indeed enjoying the ride.
“I fell in love with cowboy music when I was 14, decided I wanted to learn to play guitar and I’ve never looked back,” she said. “I would describe the music I play as joyful; it swings. I also love it for the stories it tells of the West, ranch life, and that whole lifestyle, which is subject matter that is uniquely American and part of our heritage. It is also where my heart lies. I’ve trained a couple horses and when I started, I practiced all of my singing and yodeling on horseback or while milking a cow, and I still often do,” said Harris.
Kansas City-based 3 Trails West will also steal some of the limelight at the festival. The six-piece Western Music Orchestra founded by the Eilts brothers features Jim Winters on guitar and lead vocals, Leo Eilts on upright bass and harmony vocals and Roger Eilts on rhythm guitar and both lead and harmony vocals. Backing the trio are the “Trailhands”, Kansas City music scene local legends Bill Dye on steel and electric guitar, Ken Lovern on accordion and Kansas City Symphony Orchestra musician Marvin Gruenbaum on viola.
Leo Eilts shared a story relating how the live music and audience relationship can be just as emotional and meaningful for the artists as it is for the patrons. The Eilts brothers were playing a festival in Kansas on Sept. 11, 2001 when the World Trade Center attacks almost caused them to cancel their performance. The perfomrance went on and became one of the most intensely emotional experiences Leo Eilts has ever witnessed on stage.
“Strangers were openly weeping in each other’s arms, handshakes and hugs were shared and soon, I heard the beginnings of laughter. I saw smiles,” he said. “Through it all, my band simply stood quietly on stage, marveling at the transformation we saw from the stage.”
Organizing the Cowboy Gathering of the Four Corners took a combined effort from many like-minded parties including Todd King, his wife Aimee and their teenage children Nolan and Cassidy; Fair Board representatives Kathi Marler and Sammie Coulon and local performers Lynne Lewis, Johnny Holliday along with Bud and Shelly Griffin.
Todd King described how his family and the Montezuma County Fair Board came to work together in order to bring the festival to fruition.
“Part of the impetus of starting the Cowboy Gathering of the Four Corners was that the Montezuma
County Fair Board was desirous of hosting a concert but, with a limited budget could not justify bringing in a big name band,” Todd King said. “Since our family was considering starting a Western music/Cowboy poetry gathering anyway, we approached the Fair Board and suggested that we work together and grow both events together. They agreed and came on board as our largest sponsor.”
“When I started, I practiced all of my singing and yodeling on horseback or while milking a cow, and I still often do.”
What: First annual Cowboy Gathering of the Four Corners
When: Thursday, July 31 – Sunday, Aug. 3
Where: Montezuma County, Colorado
Cost: Daytime shows free, Friday night main event $15 for adults, $10 for children 8 to 14, free for children 7 and under
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