Jesus Goñi and Martin Goicoechea

Bertsolaris Jesus Goñi and Martin Goicoechea

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ELKO — The 34th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering will honor the contemporary culture and heritage of Basques and buckaroos in the Great Basin from Jan. 29-Feb. 3.

Many Basques came to the American West to work on sheep and cattle ranches as herders and buckaroos. Today, many Basque families successfully own and operate their own ranches and carry rich stories of immigration and adaptation. Among Basque communities overseas and in the American West, traditions of music, improvised poetry, literature, dance and foodways are flourishing.

Eight Basque performers and musical and dance groups will participate in the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, including bertsolaris from the U.S. and from the Basque Country in northern Spain and southern France.

Among the Basque traditions that will be presented at the Gathering is bertsolaritza, an improvised poetic art form where two bertsolaris improvise and exchange poetic verses in the Euskara language, while trying to cleverly one-up each other. These verses are sung to melodies and created on the spot in response to a given theme.

Thousands attend the National Bertsolari Championship which takes place every four years. The winner of the 2009 Championship, Maialen Lujanbio Zugasti, will travel to Elko to participate in the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. She was the first female to win the championship.

Basque guests at the Gathering will include music and dance troupes Ariñak Dancers (Elko) and Ardi Baltza (Lamoille); musical groups Jean Flesher and Amerikanuak (Salt Lake City and beyond), Mercedes Mendive and Melodikoa (Elko), and David Romtvedt & Caitlin Belem Romtvedt (Buffalo, Wyoming); and bertsolaris Jesus Goñi (Reno), Martin Goicoechea (Rock Springs, Wyoming), Oihana Iguaran Barandiaran (Amasa, Gipuzkoa, Basque Country) and Maialen Lujanbio Zugasti (Hernani, Gipuzkoa, Basque Country).

The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering will also feature hands-on workshops in traditional Basque cooking and dancing; how to play the pandero, a musical instrument similar to a tambourine; and how to carve a traditional Basque walking stick or makila.

There will be several films about Basque culture and history, as well as storytelling sessions from Basques and buckaroos who work ranches in the Great Basin, and talks from Basque scholars on topics ranging from Basque literature, to arboglyphs of the Great Basin, to the history of Basques in the West.

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A special exhibition in the Western Folklife Center’s Wiegand Gallery will showcase the art, history and contemporary culture of Basques and buckaroos in the American West. Home of the annual National Basque Festival, Elko has a thriving Basque community and is known for its Basque culture and food.

Produced by the Western Folklife Center, the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is the nation’s original cowboy poetry and music festival, which honors the arts, culture and traditions of the rural West, including poetry, music, storytelling, dancing, workshops, exhibitions, discussions and food.

At the 34th annual Gathering, more than 50 poets, musicians and musical groups from the U.S., Canada, Australia and the Basque country will perform on nine stages at four different venues. Visit nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org for artist bios and audio samples.

Tickets to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering can be purchased at nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org, or by calling 888-880-5885.

The 34th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is supported by NV Energy, Newmont Gold Corp., Barrick Gold of North America, Nevada Humanities, Nevada Arts Council, National Endowment for the Arts, Elko Convention and Visitors Authority, the City of Elko, the Elko County Recreation Board, KNPB Public Broadcasting, Blach Distributing and many more foundations, businesses and individuals.

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