ELKO – Looking for something to do in between cowboy poetry and music events at the Elko Convention Center?
How about browsing through the Western Mercantile in the Elko Conference Center? Or maybe get some coffee or lunch? If there’s enough time, browse through a library of cowboy poetry books or watch artists get their portraits taken at a makeshift studio.
With most of the daytime events taking place in the center of Elko, vendors including Las Brisas, Odeh’s Mediterranean Restaurant, Ogi Deli, Strong Wife Sourdough and the Whoaback Saloon offer food and beverages to hundreds of people during the primary days of the 34th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
Alica Agrella of Ogi Deli said the staff was busy serving breakfast and lunch with hardly a let up.
“Sometimes it’s really busy,” Agrella said Friday during a lull in customers ordering a Tri-Tip Nevada, Solomo sandwich, soup, beans, cookies or pastries. The deli began serving food three years ago, and, for the Gathering, was planning to open for dinner Friday night.
Last year Andrea Oeschger and her husband served coffee and breakfast as Gorilla Craft Eats. Although the food truck was sold a few months ago, Oeschger received a call to return to the Convention Center entryway for a few hours each morning.
“It’s a quick grab breakfast,” Oeschger said. Serving under her business, Strong Wife Sourdough, she uses her own sourdough starter to make cheddar green onion scones, caramel sourdough stickey buns and chocolate chip scones.
“The coffee is from Collective Coffee Roasters which just opened up in town,” Oeschger added.
Tony Odeh said last year at the Gathering was his “big announcement,” that Odeh’s Mediterranean Restaurant was going to open. The menu is about the same, but this year they are in the Sage Room that allows for more space to serve falafels and beef or lamb shawarmas, and seating.
“We have a bigger room,” Odeh said. explaining that last year the long lines blocked off vendor booths in the Conference Center. “Now it’s better.”
Odeh’s experienced rushes of customers on Thursday who ordered lentil soup and falafels – their most popular meals – causing staff to return to the restaurant for more supplies.
Like Ogi Deli, Odeh’s expected to be open all three days of the gathering, but Odeh said he was prepared to stay late on Friday and Saturday nights.
Across from Odeh’s the Whoaback Saloon would also be open late on those nights, said John Patterson of Frank-Lin Distilleries.
For the fifth year, the company has been a part of the Gathering in the Convention Center, offering a $3 whiskey sampler, with all proceeds going to the Western Folklife Center.
All of the food vendors said they had return customers who sought them out to order their favorite meal and Patterson said he too saw people who come by every year.
“It’s fun to hear stories,” Patterson said. “We get a lot of people from different states, which is really fun, and they all come back and tell me stories about how they got our liquor into different places where they live.”
Shoppers will find a variety of cowboy and western-themed items to buy, from hats to jewelry to art in the Conference Center.
Since the mercantile opened a couple of years ago, IFA Country Store brings clothing, accessories and snacks to sell at their booth.
“It’s really steady for us,” said manager Lacie Trevort, adding that the wild rags and wool hats and sweaters were their most popular items. “We’re in a good location.”
Like other vendors, she said she’s met people from around the country and the world, speaking to visitor from England earlier on Friday.
“We’re meeting great people and having a great time,” Trevort said.
Above all of the crowds of people at the Convention Center, Kevin Martini-Fuller is documenting and archiving the performers, workshop teachers and gear show vendors through his camera lens.
Since 1986, Martini-Fuller has photographed poets, musicians and artisans who take part in the Gathering. His work created a matrix of performers for the 1987 poster.
Back then, Martini-Fuller drove to Elko from Boise. Since then he’s moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and now lives in Philadelphia, but still makes the trip to Elko for the Gathering.
He takes about 6-8 photographs of about 80 to 100 people in the three days his makeshift studio is set up at the top stairs near the auditorium. Although he uses digital Nikon cameras, it still takes time to process the photos, transforming them from color to black and white images.
“For one hour of photography, it takes two hours of postproduction,” Martini-Fuller said.
Open-mic artists are also required to visit Martini-Fuller’s studio as part of the Folklife Center’s archiving mission.
“It’s usually the first time they’re performing, entry level,” he said. “If we get their photo, then as their career evolves, we already have their picture in a file.”
“It’s all about the archives and all about creating history.”
Over the years, Martini-Fuller noticed the expansion of the Gathering‘s program and venues since the first year he attended.
“They’ve brought in more music,” he said. “And it’s taken on a larger footprint. Early on it was here at the junior high on top of the hill.”
Another longtime participant of the Gathering is the reference library in the coat check-in room of the Convention Center.
Open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., the library is open to the public and allows poets and songwriters to look up a verse or lyric before a performance.
The library is part of a special collection from Utah State University’s Merrill-Cazier Library and has about 400 works for people to browse and read during the Gathering. It also includes recordings on CD, DVD and VHS tapes and original manuscripts submitted by Hal Cannon.
Randy Williams, folklore curator and oral history specialist, has attended the Gathering for 25 years and said the library in Logan, Utah also keeps programs and posters from each Gathering.
“We’re like a repository for the Gathering as well,” Williams said. She and Nora Zambrieno brought the collection to Elko this year.
Williams searches a database from her laptop to find lines of poetry or lyrics “if someone is trying to remember the last line of a classic poem.”
Three types of people visit the library, Williams said. Older poets who seek them out every year like Wally McClure who stopped by Thursday, those see the library and want to check-out a book, and those who are looking for help.
“I’ve told people where lost and found is, where to buy tickets. I’m happy to direct people,” Williams said. “Because this is the coat check room, they ask to leave their coat,” Williams said.
Because the library is located in the thick of the Gathering, Williams said she’s made lifetime friends from the people who come in either out of curiosity or by accident.
“Lena Sharp is not here this year, but we met 20 years ago and we both grew up in Las Vegas,” Williams said. “We’re friends. Where else does a 57 year-old woman have a friendship with a 96 year-old woman?”