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Basques kick off 34th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

ELKO – More than 250 people attended the Basques and Buckaroos Kickoff Bash in at the Western Folklife Center’s G Three Bar Theater Monday night for the 34th National Cowboy Poetry Festival.

Emceed by Bob Echeverria, the evening featured dancing by the Elko Arinak Dancers, and music by Mercedes Mendive and Melodikoa and Wyoming father and daughter duo David and Caitlin Romtvedt.

Oihana Iguaran Barnadiaran and Maialen Lujanbio Zugasti sang bertsolaritza with Jose Mallea translating their improvised verse into English for the audience.

Poet and author Carolyn Duferrena read selections from her book “Quiet, Except for the Wind,” including “Old Cow Dog’s Winter,” “Blue Moon New Year’s Eve” and “Mapping the Landscape of the Heart.”

As the evening drew to a close, David Romtvedt joined Duferrena on stage and read “Twenty-Five Vultures” from his book “Some Church,” which told the story of a neighbor’s simultaneous battle with cancer and vultures.

Duferrena told the audience that at the conference hosted by the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, a question came up about poets and authors finding less traditional topics to write and explore.

“What new themes are out there for people to talk about in their poetry?” Duferenna said. “There are a lot of new issues out there a person could write about, except this is the first poem I’ve heard about fish and game,” referring to Romtvedt’s story about vultures.

Vicky Goicoechea of Elko was in the audience for the kickoff and said she enjoyed the Romtvedts’ performance.

“It was wonderful. I enjoyed their music and poetry. Of course, everyone loved the vulture story,” Goicoechea said.

The bertsolari performance “I think is new for here and that’s wonderful,” Goicoechea said, adding she was planning to attend the McAdoos’ presentation “Basque Sheepherders: The End of an Era.”

Veronica Mendive attended the kickoff to watch her daughter Mercedes perform and her 9-year-old granddaughter Nekane dance with the Arinak Dancers. She said she liked Duferrena’s poetry; and it was her first time hearing the bertsolaris sing.

“My son-in-law translated what they said. He’s from the Basque country,” Mendive said.

For 17 years, Sherry Sanders, Earnstine Howell and Bobbie Ann Howell have traveled together from Las Vegas to attend the Gathering and look forward to seeing other cultures represented every year.

Sanders said she and Earnestine Howell are also frequent participants in various workshops, including hat-making, saddle making, horse-hair hitching, and cooking.

“We did the first hat-making class,” said Sanders, who teaches high school special education in Las Vegas. “I come up here and get new ideas and go back and tell the city kids what it’s like to live on ranches.”

Some visitors, like Michele and Hans van Heusden, return to the Gathering each year to see friends. They discovered the Gathering 25 years ago when Hans relocated to Elko to work for Newmont.

“We made more friends in 15 months in Elko than 35 years living in San Francisco,” Hans van Heusden said.

The kickoff gave the audience a taste of this year’s Gathering, which spotlights the art, music, history and literature of the Basque sheepherders who immigrated to the United States and their descendants.

Also performing throughout the Gathering are traditional cowboy artists including Waddie Mitchell, Randy Rieman, Paul Zarzyski, Michael Martin Murphy, Riders in the Sky, Wylie and the Wild West, and others.

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Female improvisational poets share journey into Basque tradition

ELKO — In the history of bertsolaritza, male participants mostly sang about or represented women in the Basque improvised singing poetry. Over the past 30 years, however, female bertsolaris including Maialen Lujanbio and Oihana Iguaran from Basque Country have begun to put women into verse and in the spotlight.

“As women, we are growing and redefining the group,” Lujanbio said.

She and Iguaran discussed their experiences about entering and changing the male-dominated cultural art form Jan. 30 during the Center for Basque Studies 15th annual conference as part of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which features “Basques and Buckaroos.”

Bertsolaritza performances and discussions are on the gathering schedule to demonstrate the importance of the Basque oral tradition, which is akin to American slam poetry but sung extemporaneously in Euskara on specific topics using rhyme and melody while responding to another participant.

For context, Iguaran presented a short film portraying illustrations, photos and video of performers documented over three centuries. The Basque people singing and debating in town squares were nearly all men, and the film did not show women singing.

“That’s how we go – the history of bertsolaritza,” Iguaran said before asking the audience to imagine her as a young girl seeing similar images. “Do you think I could identify with any of the bersolari we saw?”

That changed when Lujanbio shattered convention by becoming the first woman to win the Bertsolaris Championship in 2013 and again in December 2017. Showing a photo of Lujanbio wearing the winner’s txapela, or beret, onstage at the championship, Iguaran said, “This one [is] the biggest change, or the most symbolic.”

In her talk, Lujanbio explained that just because women were not documented as singers doesn’t mean there were not women participants in the past.

“We bertsolari have existed since ever,” she said during her first English presentation.

But it’s only in recent years that women have emerged in the public arena to sing at community gatherings such as bars and at movies, and in competitions. With the newfound platform, Lujanbio and others have been broadening the boundaries of the craft. Efforts include introducing more topics about women, portraying women in a wider variety of roles, encouraging women to participate and teaching the next generation how to improvise.

“I think it is important to design the transmission of this culture,” Lujanbio said, explaining through a translator that the continuation of bertsolaritza preserves the Basque culture and language.

Lujanbio described some of the factors that contribute to the success of women’s emergence as noted improvisational poets. The accepting nature of a younger generation and the establishment of schools that teach the art of improvisation to boys and girls alike helped blaze the way. Both speakers said that the full incorporation of women into bertsolaritza has progressed but still has a long way to go.

“The idea is to develop and be alive,” Lujanbio said. “In bertsolaritza, we take a risk and we gain success.”

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Cowboy Arts & Gear Museum set for grand opening

ELKO – The community is invited to join the Cowboy Arts & Gear Museum at 542 Commercial St. for its grand opening from 2-4 p.m. Friday.

The event will feature a program with remarks from the museum board of directors and NV Energy leadership. Attendees will also get a first look at the museum and enjoy refreshments.

“We are so excited that our vision for this museum has come to fruition,” said Jan Petersen, Cowboy Arts and Gear Museum executive director. “NV Energy has been with us every step of the way – from gifting the building, to managing and funding all building renovations and improvements – this wouldn’t be happening without them. We are so excited to finally be unveiling this project. It will be a great contribution to the community and downtown Elko.”

NV Energy’s contributions to the museum total $700,000. This amount includes donation of the building as well as the following renovations:

  • Energy-efficient upgrades including Low-E windows and doors, LED lightning, low-flow toilets and a high efficiency, natural gas boiler system.
  • Building ADA code compliance.
  • Designing and building the outside of the museum to resemble its original 1907 appearance, including a stamped-metal façade.

“I am very proud to see the next chapter of this special, historical building come to life as the Cowboy Arts and Gear Museum,” said Paul Caudill, NV Energy president and CEO. “My colleagues at the company are proud to make this donation that allows us to help preserve the community’s rich history, showcasing the legacy of those who came before us to shape this entire region.”

The building in downtown Elko was built in 1907 and was home to the G.S. Garcia Saddle Shop for 31 years. NV Energy owned and occupied the building for 77 years before moving to a new facility in 2016.

The museum will serve the historic downtown corridor by sharing the culture and heritage of the cowboy through stories and displaying gear. It will be open year-round and will include exhibits, art displays, speakers, demonstrations, workshops, apprenticeships and work in collaboration with the Nevada Arts Council.