HEREFORD — This year’s “Ride, Cowboy Ride” Cowboy Poetry Gathering found a way to reach its audience despite the pandemic, by live-streaming their performers in addition to limited in-person seating to accommodate the safety guidelines related to COVID-19.
Co-chair and organizer of the event, George Wheat said that they expanded their online infrastructure to allow attendees to live-stream the Feb. 5 and 6 performances from the Arizona Folklore Preserve, while also providing a library of pre-recorded performances from around 30 participating artists.
“Well it’s a diffidently a different year,” said Wheat. “We’ll have a very small audience at the Arizona Folklore Preserve and we will stream them live for those who purchase a digital access pass.”
Six artists performed live at the preserve Friday and Saturday night, including Peter “P.D.” Ronstadt & The Company, Dennis Russell, Belinda Gail, Syd Masters & the Swing Riders, Chris Isaacs, and Jeneve Rose Mitchell.
“The AFP (Arizona Folklore Preserve) is one of my favorite places to play in the country,” said Ronstadt, noting how the preserve has held the comfort and nostalgia of creating music in the family’s living room.
Ronstadt, 35, the son of the late musician-songwriter Michael J. Ronstadt and nephew of singer Linda Ronstadt, began his set with one of his father’s songs titled “Canadian Moon,” noting how it has been acclaimed as one of the most popular songs that his father wrote.
“We didn’t have a set list last night,” Ronstadt aid Saturday. “We just picked a song to see where the adventure takes us.”
From there, Ronstadt said that they performed another song of his father’s, “Coyote,” and described the ballad as capturing a “snapshot of the border, the beauty, the darkness and the strife of the borderlands.”
Ronstadt and his band wrapped up the evening with an original song written by himself and his father, “El Camino,” and closed the band’s 45-minute set with his grandfather’s favorite song, “Volver, Volver” written by Fernando Z. Maldonado.
Ronstadt said that the song’s title translates to “We will return,” and noted how the song is a common closer for the band for its messaging of wanting to return to the stage to perform again.
Other performers also shared their performing secrets.
“I never do the exact set twice,” said singer-songwriter Belinda Gail, “I pray about it, I start out with my first and last songs and then I fill in the middle. I try to get a feel for it. If there’s a certain song that really resonates with people, I will swap (it).”
Gail, 66, said that she’s grown up on ranches in California and Nevada has been singing western music for 25 years.
Gail said that while she has sang all throughout her life, she didn’t do it professionally until her kids were grown.
Gail said that her musical set is comprised of “a combination of old traditional music and current western music. Also a bit of western swing and a couple of originals. I always try in include one gospel song. There should be something there for everybody.”
Gail said that one of her original songs on her setlist was “Granite Mountain,” noting how “It’s written about Granite Mountain in Prescott. I always dedicate it to the Granite Mountain Hot Shots who lost their lives.”
Gail also noted that she serves as the board member on the International Western Music Association (IWMA), saying that “We’re working hard to get music out to people.”
Returning for his fourth performance at the Cowboy Poetry event, Syd Masters of Syd Masters & the Swing Riders said that “we’ve enjoyed coming down to Sierra Vista and the people who put on the event are stellar. This gathering has always had good representation.”
Masters, 54, said that his performances are half original songs and half covers.
Masters said that one of the his original songs he had on his set list to perform is “Under New Mexico Skies,” saying it is the “New Mexico State cowboy song.”
Masters continued, saying that he and his band like to perform traditional western songs like Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” or “Ghost Riders in The Sky,” by Stan Jones.
When asked about why theses songs were on his setlist, Masters said he chose them because they fit the theme of the event.
“I hope to represent the community that we came from, Northern New Mexico, and have the audience feel like their represented and that the whole thing can gel,” said Masters.
“We bring our home stories and ideas and we want it all to fit in nicely and we want everyone to have a great time. . .We’re pretty darn excited to play for some people. It’s great day in the world.”
Wheat said on the impression he hope to make on the community with this year’s event is show that performances can happen with a little creativity.
“We want to show them that we can have some semblance of normalcy even though nothing right now is normal,” said Wheat, “These types of events can still happen, you have to use your imagination and ingenuity make them happen. Most of these artists are out of work. We want to keep the economic stream alive as well. . .We’re funded largely by donations and individuals, we couldn’t do this without their continued support year after year.”
Gail said that the impression she hopes to leave with her performance is “that western music isn’t an archaic, old-school music from the ‘40s and ‘50s and that it is not relevant. I think it is a very current art form, it reflects a lot of the current themes of our time. I would like (the audience) to hear that it’s beautiful stories with relevant themes.”
“I hope we provided some light to the audience and the community in these dark times,” said Ronstadt.
“It’s healing to get together and play music and we hope to share that with the community and the joy we get out from it and hope they feel that joy too.”