Sourdough can spin a cowboy yarn and sing a haunting campfire ballad.
Three weeks ago, he was surviving a car bomb in Afghanistan.
“I was walking toward the American Embassy in Kabul when a car bomb went off about 100 yards down the street,” said Dale Myres, who’s been performing as Sourdough this week in the Fort Worth Stock Show’s West Arena. “I didn’t get any shrapnel, but the shock wave lifted me off the ground and slammed me down 10 feet further.”
Myres is a plumber who until Jan. 11 was on his fourth contract with companies that send American tradesmen to places like Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan to work for the U.S. Defense and State departments.
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He’s also an “edutainer” who got back to his home in Hudson Oaks on Jan. 13, just in time to sign up with husband-and-wife team Bob and Johnie Terry for the 17th annual Campfire Stories by the Texas Cowboy Poets Association. Dozens of cowboy poets, storytellers and musicians performed for four days that ended Thursday.
The performers, all volunteers, see the event as a reunion, not a gig.
“We get season passes and parking spots,” said Myres, 58, who just landed a full-time job working on Cook Children’s Medical Center’s plumbing. “We can sell our CDs, if we have any, to make a little money. But that’s not why we’re here.”
The entertainers come to the Stock Show to “preserve a tradition and a set of values that our society needs,” said Charlie Williams, a 74-year-old cowboy poet and Texas Instruments retiree from Rowlett.
That’s probably what was in Bob Watt’s mind 18 years ago when the former Stock Show president agreed quickly with Williams that a cowboy poetry gathering was just what Fort Worth’s premier event needed.
“It took us a year to get it worked out,” Williams said. “The first one was one day, then it went to two days, then three days. We started doing four days in 2010, and we’ve never had a problem getting enough performers to keep the show going.”
Looking back on the early years and thinking about what the Campfire Stories became, “we’ve exceeded Mr. Watt’s and our expectations,” Williams said. “We’ve put some outstanding talent on that stage.”
Indeed, Kacey Musgraves, who just days ago won a Grammy for Best Country Song, performed on that stage years ago, said Janet McBride, 79, of Forney.
“Kacey came to Buckaroos, the Cowtown Opry’s youth program, to learn to yodel,” said McBride, who was Musgraves’ yodeling coach.
Cowtown Opry, a group from the Fort Worth Stockyards that performs at 2 p.m. each Sunday on the front porch of the Livestock Exchange Building, sends a lot of talent to Campfire Stories, McBride said.
Everyone who takes the stage delivers performances that carry audiences to places of sagebrush and gun smoke.
Stan Mahler, 60, of Olney, crooned a sad ballad of murder by a mezcal-fogged cowboy, yodeled an ode to cowboys who work hard for little pay and belted out the Stan Jones American standard Ghost Riders in the Sky.
Poppa Mack (56-year-old Geoff Mackay of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), told funny stories about his home, where there are three seasons — winter, mosquitoes and construction. He also led the audience in prayer, thanking God for “letting us live the cowboy way.”
Before he left the stage, Poppa did a song with Sourdough that they’d written together as a homage to the wide-open, grass-covered, sunshine-flooded spaces they long for.
The performances kept Amy and Steven Keith, of Charleston, West Virginia, in their seats for hours.
“It’s not like watching a show,” said Steven Keith, 44. “It’s experiencing a lifestyle. It’s real.”
Amy Keith, a 47-year-old veterinarian, said the two were in Arlington for a professional conference and decided to find out what the Stock Show was about.
“We have horse shows and barrel racing, but nothing on this scale,” she said. “This is cultural. It’s wonderful.”