- The Magazine
- Current Issue
- Events & Shows
- Web Extras
- Yellow Pages
Paul Zarzyski and Wylie Gustafson give Northern Nevadans a preview of Elko "Gathering."
Photo: Charlie Johnston (Zarzyski in middle, above; Gustafson, below)
In between songs during Wylie Gustafson’s performance at Reno’s Pioneer Center on October 28, he said matter-of-factly to the crowd, “Cowboy music is about this common connection with the West. It’s not about big cowboy hats.”
His bandmate, T. Scot Wilburn, didn’t skip a beat when he offered a quick-witted comeback. “It’s about the hats, too,” Wilburn said in a low, cowboy drawl before the band busted into another song.
Wilburn has a point. It is about the cowboy hats, perhaps the truest icon of Western culture. Plenty of audience members were wearing them at this tune-up concert for one of Nevada’s most anticipated 2009 events, the 25th anniversary of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, January 24-31 in Elko. The event is a celebration of cowboy culture.
Until then, Northern Nevadans can savor this fun-filled night. Gustafson’s band, Wylie & The Wild West, played in conjunction with renowned cowboy poet Paul Zarzyski. Zarzyski opened the show reciting a few poems before he welcomed Gustafson—famous for his trademark Yahoo! yodel call—to the stage. The rest of the night made for a refreshing mix of Western entertainment—humorous (mostly), reflective, and emotional rolled into one.
Zarzyski is at his best when he aims to make the audience laugh. One of his poems, for instance, expresses his Italian (pronounced “Eye-talian” by Zarzyski, whose mother is Italian) pride, specifically his love for the TV show The Sapranos. Another, “LSD,” talks about “getting high” on Long Sagebrush Drives. The veteran poet and former professional bareback bronco rider, who mixes words and says them in a way that seems impossible, also tugs at the heartstrings. His poem about spending time with his father, who recently died, is a good example of that.
If you need proof of Gustafson’s love for the rural West, besides the fact that he was born in northern Montana, consider this image from his hometown in Washington. “There’s a sign there that says, ‘No Services Next 50 Miles.’ My kinda place,” he said to the crowd. Gustafson raises quarterhorses with his wife. His fascination with horses is a common theme in his music, advertised as a good-time cowboy band. The music is a blend of Western swing, classic country, cowboy, and folk. Like Zarzyski, the band appeals to a range of emotions.
Zarzyski will be performing at his 23rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in January. He and Gustafson, in addition to their appearance in Elko, will travel to Nashville in November to record an album together.
Western Folklife Center
501 Railroad St., Elko