ELKO – The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering has a special place in Michael Martin Murphey’s heart.

Murphey arrived in Elko 33 years ago on the invitation of his friend Willy Matthews and was awestruck by what he discovered.

“I came out and walked around with a dropped jaw,” Murphey said. “There were so many people who liked what I liked. I thought I was a maverick and it turned out there were lots of us mavericks.”

This year, Murphey returns to his roots on stage, performing with just his acoustic guitar.

“I’m proud to appear as an acoustic act,” Murphey said. “I like the challenge of playing solo acoustic. I’m going to put in a lot of stuff that shows off the finger-picking style I loved as a boy listening to Chet Atkins records.”

During his three-day stay in Elko, Murphey said the event is mostly about getting together with fans, musicians and poets.

“What I look forward to is the people I’ve never met before,” Murphey said. “I’m like my father. I’ve never met a stranger.

Murphey listed names such as old friends like Ernie Sites, Waddie Mitchell, Don Edwards and Ian Tyson and included new musicians like Andy Hedges of Lubbock, Texas and Kristyn Harris of McKinney, Texas.

Murphey said that during the gathering, it would be inevitable that he and other fellow Texas performers will get together.

“I’m a Texan. If we’re in a place not Texas, we all congregate,” Murphey said.

In the last few years, Murphey has explored old time country music that has roots in early bluegrass, which uses similar instruments like the mandolin, banjo and fiddle, a throwback to his early days when Muprhey wrote a song for Flatt and Scruggs.

His album “Buckaroo Bluegrass” won a Grammy and Murphey plans to include some of that in his shows.

Murphey splits his time between Fort Worth, Texas and northern Colorado, where he owns a cattle ranch, something that he felt would help keep him in tune with the cowboy way of life.

“I didn’t feel I could sing cowboy music without having the experience,” Murphey said, adding that the cattle business is currently resurging and employing more people.

“It’s a growing industry again,” he said.

Thanks to that personal experience, Murphey said his new album tells about the contemporary West.

“I’m singing this year about what’s going on in the cattle business,” Murphey said. “Anybody who’s interested in what’s going on in the new West, not the old West, I encourage them to come.”

Murphey performs three times at the Gathering. The first is “The Ponies; A Celebration” at 11 a.m. Feb. 2 at the Elko Convention Center.

“Come-A Tai Yai Yippee on the Old Chisholm Trail” is at 11 a.m. Feb. 3 at the Elko Convention Center.

Murphey will also perform at Pardners of the Wind 8 p.m. Feb. 3 at the Western Folklife Center’s G Three Bar Theater.

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