SIERRA VISTA — “How often do you get a double Grammy winning, long-time member of the Grand Ole Opry in your own backyard?” quizzed Ron Hinkle, a local banjo picking musician who serves as artist liaison for Friday and Saturday’s Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering event.
“Besides Saturday evening’s headline group, Riders in the Sky, we have a top-20 American Idol finisher in Jeneve Rose Mitchell, the 2019 International Western Music Association (IWMA) male and female poets of the year in Tom Swearingen and Teresa Burleson and the IWMA 2019 Group of the Year, The Cowboy Way.”
Those are just some of the top performers taking the stage at Klein Center for the Performing Arts for the 28th annual Gathering, which kicks-off Friday evening and picks up again on Saturday with a day-long list of events throughout Buena High School.
With this year’s “It’s Cool to be a Cowboy” theme, the 2020 gathering promises a full lineup of entertaining western music and cowboy poetry, splashed with just enough western swing to satisfy all tastes.
“Many of these artists are actual working cowboys and cowgirls who write their own prose about the life they love,” Hinkle said. “These are stories filled with horses, roundups and the great outdoors.”
George Wheat, who co-chairs the Gathering with Nancy Fusco, is now in his sixth year as the event’s co-chair.
“We have some amazing headline acts this year, and many have their own fan base throughout Southern Arizona,. And of course, Riders in the Sky are internationally known,” Wheat said.
“During the day on Saturday, we are going to have performances in several places throughout Buena High School.”
Along with great entertainment, Wheat spoke of the Gathering’s economic draw to Sierra Vista, with the event bringing between 2,500 and 3,000 visitors to the area through the course of the weekend.
“It’s a huge economic benefit,” he said. “We have some people who come to the Gathering Gathering year after year. Out-of-town visitors fill the hotels and eat in the restaurants, so it’s beneficial to the community in that respect. Along with that, we have our student program, where we go into the schools in the fall and talk to students about writing poetry and about western heritage. So the event is both educational and instructional for the students.”
The Cochise Gathering is one the few Cowboy Poetry events in the country with a writing program for students, Wheat said.
As he looks toward the Gathering’s future, Wheat is already planning a special 30th anniversary celebration.
“It’s a lot of work but we get great community support and have been able to draw amazing talent every year,” said Wheat, who added that the Gathering receives positive feedback every year.
“The work of these western song writers ranges from downright hilarious to the tear-jerkingly serious,” Hinkle said. “As our 2020 theme says, ‘It’s Cool to Be a Cowboy!’ It is also a traditional American way of life that inspires great American music and poetry.”