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Elko bertsolaritza performance transcends countries

ELKO — Joxe Mallea throws his head back and laughs as he translates Euskara during a performance of improvised Basque poetry. He jots notes on a pad while five singers from Basque Country and the U.S. demonstrate bertsolaritza Feb. 2 at the 34th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

For the first verbal joust, Mallea set the stage by giving Oihana Iguaran and Martin Goicoechea a scenario about which they must sing. Iguaran, from Basque Country, and Goicoechea, from Wyoming, must in spontaneous verse and song impersonate lovers who have not seen each other in 50 years — since the man left for Elko to become a cowboy and the woman stayed in the old country.

Iguaran begins, producing a melody in the native tongue with the sound of sweet ringing. Goicoechea responds in a nasally voice, and the two go back and forth about four times to build the scene in song.

In his translation, Mallea explains the imaginary conversation in a love story that ends with the man saying, “I see you as pretty as ever.”

What makes Mallea laugh, however, is another role-playing scenario in which Miren Artetxe, from Basque Country, and Jesus Goñi — the national champion bertsolari from Reno — must embody an engaged couple arguing over whether to live in Elko or Europe.

Their debate is interrupted by a casino worker, portrayed by world champion bertsolari Maialen Lujanbio, who tests Goñi’s resolve to wed one woman. In a conversational singing tone and with a twinkle in his eye, he says through a translator the real jackpot is the two young women vying for his attention.

Yet Mallea shows true glee as Lujanbio delivers the determinant line in a low and undulating voice. In English, the meaning is something like this: “The playboy will end up with no money and no women.”

Throughout the performance, the singers convey the improvisational and collaborative fundamentals of bertsolaritza, a hundreds-year-old oral tradition of the Basque culture maintained in the old and new worlds. The transcendence shows when more than once a verse loops around to a refrain familiar to all the participants, and no matter who stands behind the microphone, all sing along.

After the final fast exchange of ideas, verse, rhyme and rhythm among all the singing poets, Mallea once again translates.

“One of the last verses was, ‘We don’t have cowboys like you in the old country,’” he said.

Elko's newest 'history destination' opens downtown

ELKO — Elko’s new Cowboy Arts and Gear Museum attracted dignitaries like Nevada’s Secretary of State and Attorney General to its ribbon cutting ceremony Friday afternoon.

The museum’s grand opening was scheduled to coincide with this year’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and attracted dozens of buckaroos and cowgirls from the Western Folklife Center — a horseshoe’s toss across the parking lot.

Elko historian Jan Petersen said, “This building was the old saddle shop of G.S Garcia from 1907 to 1938, then belonged to the power company for seventy-seven years until they donated it for the museum. NV Energy has been a great benefactor.”

“Garcia started Nevada’s first rodeo here in Elko in 1912,” Petersen said, “He also started the rodeos in Reno and Winnemucca. He was quite the entrepreneur and visionary.”

Petersen said the new “history destination” was connected with Elko’s Downtown Business Association, the California Trail Center, the Western Folklife Center, and the Northeastern Nevada Museum. The current collection at the Cowboy Arts and Gear Museum includes saddles and bridles on loan from the Western Folklife Center, the Northeastern Nevada Museum, and from two private collections.

Paul Caudill, president of NV Energy, spoke to the crowd about moving to Elko for the first time and finding his new headquarters inadequate. Caudill decided to build a new facility and donate the former G.S. Garcia Harness Shop for a cowboy gear museum.

“Instead of turning the building into another commercial space,” Caudill said, “I wanted to bring people off the interstate to a museum.”

Jay Tubbs, NV Energy’s Director of Real Estate and Facilities North, spoke about the challenges of renovating a historic building over a hundred years old.

“We kept yesterday’s look with today’s values,” Tubbs said, describing the energy-efficient additions of LED lighting, insulated windows, and a new boiler.

“It takes a team to do this kind of project,” Tubbs said, thanking Elko architect Catherine Wines.

Elko Mayor Chris Johnson told the crowd of cowboy hats, “This is an anchor for the future of Elko. It’s contagious; other store owners see it and improve their store fronts.”

“I always tell people Elko is the center of it all,” Johnson said. “The downside is it’s four hundred miles away from anything. Because we’re remote, we have to do things ourselves; if we don’t have it, we’re going to make it on our own.”

“When I first heard about this, it was spot-on,” Johnson said. “We all look forward to seeing its success, hoping for new changes downtown.”

John Wright, board president for the Cowboy Arts and Gear Museum, spoke about his mother’s life-long dream.

“It was my mom’s vision, she knew it was G.S. Garcia’s building, and it’s fitting for my family to take this on as her legacy and make this a destination in Elko.”

“This ties downtown together,” Wright said, “People will come and see how much we have here, and then have to stay for the night. We want people to bring their families here for generations to come.”

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, grandson of Nevada’s first Basque governor, Paul Laxalt, said, “This museum is important for Elko, and shows the character of the community.”

“It’s incredibly important to me to preserve history,” Laxalt said, “Ranching and sheep herding are part of our culture. My family was sheep herders. Basques helped build Nevada; they’re part of its foundation.”

Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske said, “I’m honored to be here. It’s an amazing donation from NV Energy, and the people who put in the time to put it together. It’s really wonderful.”

“I’m also up here for the Cowboy Poetry Gathering,” Cegavske said. “I always have a wonderful time here.”

“Elko always makes you feel at home,” Cegavske said.

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Laxalt outlines top 4 in proposed veteran policy

ELKO — About 20 Elko veterans leaned in and chimed in while Republican gubernatorial candidate and state Attorney General Adam Laxalt described the four top issues of his proposed policy initiative for Nevada veterans.

He gathered with local service members from conflicts including the Korean and Vietnam wars Feb. 2 for a roundtable discussion at the VFW Post 2350.

“Our men and women in the armed services put their lives at risk every day to defend our freedoms and we all have a duty to stand with them and their families while they are abroad and when they return home,” Laxalt said in a statement. “As an Iraq War veteran myself, I know how important this is.”

Laxalt acknowledged the efforts of Gov. Brian Sandoval to make the state “veteran friendly” and said if elected he would build on Sandoval’s foundation to make Nevada the most “veteran-empowering” state in the union.

To accomplish that goal, Laxalt outlined priority issues discovered by a veterans’ policy committee, including providing better access to information about veterans’ resources, preventing veteran suicide, increasing veteran job opportunities and creating a veteran summit.

Possible solutions to the challenge of providing information to veterans include creating a hotline and a social media forum. Laxalt said he would dedicate state resources to increasing communications in a fiscally conservative way.

Next, he described a taskforce started a few years ago that is looking into understanding the needs of veterans who suffer from depression and are contemplating suicide.

“You have to make sure that this returning camp has hope,” Laxalt said.

Gil Hernandez, a Marine who served during the Tet Offensive that occurred 50 years ago this month, said access to veterans’ services can be limited in rural areas. He told Laxalt that Elko has a mental health counselor who visits local veterans twice a month, and that residents would benefit from having more access to qualified and empathetic professionals.

“Is twice a month enough for our veterans?” Hernandez asked. “That’s been an issue out in rural areas. ... We don’t have anywhere where a veteran can talk to someone when they need to.”

Part of inspiring hope in returning service members is helping them find meaningful work. Laxalt said he wants to create events where veterans can get together with business owners who are interested in being employers or mentors. Another component of veteran success in the workforce is eliminating onerous licensing requirements, he said.

“We need to get the private sector to see just how valuable [veterans] are,” Laxalt said.

The fourth component of Laxalt’s plan is to host veteran summits during which veterans, state officials and others can connect, and communicate lessons and goals.

“I want to do the first-ever veterans’ summit,” Laxalt said.

Vietnam veteran Joe Rigsby, who dedicated 14 years to the service in Navy aviation, said he noticed that all four pillars of Laxalt’s policy shared something in common: communication.

“If you don’t communicate, you don’t get anywhere,” Rigsby said. “We need help, but we need to communicate with you to get the idea across,” he said.

Laxalt closed by asking for the veterans’ efforts in generating grassroots support for his election. He also pledged to keep working on veterans’ issues, as he has done as attorney general through efforts such as his military legal assistance program.

“It will be a continual top priority for me,” Laxalt said.

The candidate’s ongoing support of veterans stood out to 27-year Army veteran Charlie Myers, a retired command sergeant major who is now the general manager of KRJC radio.

“Sometimes we become a political football,” Myers said, acknowledging the veterans’ platforms that Laxalt prioritized even before beginning his campaign for governor.

Laxalt hosted similar roundtable discussions with about 100 veterans in Las Vegas and about 40 in Reno. He said the groups have been supportive and have expressed that the top four issues he shares “hit the mark.”

Hernandez echoed that sentiment of support by saying, “He sounds like he’s got a working plan, and I look forward to how his program turns out.”