Visitors to the Fort Worth Stock Show don’t need a fire to feel cozy in the horseshoe-shaped West Arena — once cowboy poets and musicians get started on an afternoon of yarn spinning and yodeling,
The Campfire Stories three-day series, courtesy of the Texas Cowboy Poets Association, includes stories and songs that are all about Texas heroes, country childhoods, purple mountains, starry nights, mourning and dancing. Visitors can wander in and out from noon to 6 p.m. through Wednesday. There is no admission charge.
Charles Williams’ story about frontier lawyer Temple Houston (Sam’s son) ended with a punch line. Francine Roark Robison wove tender tales of daddies coming in from the fields at day’s end. The Terry Family performed covers of Marty Robbins and Johnny Horton hits.
Younger people also performed. Kristyn Harris, 20, sang Sugar Moon in a clear, strong voice. Harris, the Western Music Association’s Female Performer of the Year, writes her own music and performs Western swing classics.
Williams has been performing Campfire Stories at the Stock Show for 18 years and is one of two founders of the tradition. He has recently turned over much of the planning and show production over to the Terry Family, with Bob Terry as emcee.
Many cowboy poets, like Williams, have a long history of cowboy lifestyle (though the Dallas-area resident actually grew up on a dairy farm in New York state). Robison is the cowboy poet laureate of Oklahoma.
But they’re not all old-timers, or even romantics.
“It’s an art form that, because there are still kids living on ranches, there will always be cowboy poetry,” Williams said. “It’s an emotional response to the conditions that you live under.”
Janet McBride, who grew up in California and Maine, found her literal calling in Western culture.
“I was 8 years old when I heard somebody yodel and I got the bug,” she said. “It saved me from being just another kid.”
She coaches kids and teens to learn to yodel and got LeAnn Rimes vocally in shape for yodeling on her breakthrough hit Blue. Now she coaches young yodelers and musicians as part of the Cowtown Opry’s Buckaroo Club.
“I can listen to them and find the yodel in their voices,” she said. “It’s not a gargle, and it’s not back in the back of their throats.”
McBride and Williams say there are plenty of young people like Harris, of McKinney, who are willing to sing heritage Western music and write cowboy poetry, and some not-so-young newcomers. All are encouraged to get up on a stage and give it a whirl.
“We’ve prided ourselves on giving new performers a whirl,” Williams said. “Sometimes they come back and sometimes they don’t. And sometimes they shouldn’t.”
So does one have to actually be a cowboy to be a cowboy poet?
That’s apparently the big question in Western circles.
“Cowboying is a state of mind and a set of ideals,” Williams said. “You don’t have to chase cows, but you have to be one in spirit with those that do.”
Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657