performer at cowboy poetry

Photo By: Charlie Ekburg

Registration at Cowboy Poetry in Elko

Photo By: Charlie Ekburg

Cowboy Poetry performers

Photo By: Charlie Ekburg

performer at cowboy poetry

Photo By: Charlie Ekburg

Cowboy Country, Ranch outside Elko
Dinner at Star

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Rope lined walls in JM Capriola

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

leather fringe inside JM Capriola

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

A First-Timer's Guide To The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

By MEGG MUELLER | December 2014
Updated: October 2019

A First-Timer's Guide To The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering | MEGG MUELLER

Brought To You Exclusively By Nevada Magazine

For 31 years, the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering (NCPG) in Elko has drawn cowpokes and urban cowboys alike to its lyrical blend of the Wild West, the spoken word, music, and more. Evolved from the earliest storytelling of the buckaroos who ranched and rode the western U.S., the art form has earned an international audience.

But how do you “do” Cowboy Poetry? A glance at the program shows workshops in writing, gearmaking, cooking and more; special sessions and discussions, exhibits of western art and gear; films about the West; lectures by prominent speakers; panel discussions of issues facing the rural West, open-mic sessions, ranch dances, and late-night jam sessions. Phew.

To assist, we reached out to some knowledgeable folks; Elko residents, attendees of multiple NCPGs, and others. Check out their tips to help you saddle up, and make your first gathering the best it can be. 

What About The Weather?

Elko is in eastern Nevada. Translation: the daily high is just 37 degrees, so the chances of ice and snow are pretty high. Don Newman, executive director of the Elko Convention and Visitor’s Authority, reminds visitors: “If it snows, although your new leather-sole cowboy boots will look great, slip-and-slide is the result and you look like a crazy dance is taking place.”

Darcy Minter of the Western Folklife Center, agrees and notes that walking between some venues can be dicey in the winter weather. She recommends traction devices that slip over your shoes (she likes Yaktrax brand) to make sure you don’t take a spill.    

Where Should I Eat?

The Star is renowned for Basque food (it’s also Governor Brian Sandoval’s favorite), but unless you’re with a party of eight or more, seating may be tough. Best bet: “If you can get to Elko early in the week, you'll get in,” says Gretchen Ericson who will attend her 10th NCPG this year, “but Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights are a zoo (even if you just want a Picon punch).”

Not in the mood for beef? Well don’t tell a cowboy, but Elko has three sushi restaurants, too; head over to the Flying Fish or Kabuki for something different. Try Luciano’s Bar and Restaurant for Italian. 

The Experts Say...

Gretchen Ericson, 10-year attendee:

  • Hang out at the G3 Bar; it’s a great place to people watch and you just might run across Baxter Black or Don Edwards.
  • Use the shuttle bus; you never know who you might meet.
  • Bring a seat cushion for events at Elko High or Flag View Middle schools. The seating at the high school is bleachers and the middle school seating is folding metal chairs.
  • Don't miss the Wild Women art show; it’s at the Duncan Little Creek Gallery and Bar all weekend.

Darcy Minter, communications director of the Western Folklife Center:

  • If you don’t know the artists or what you might like, buy a pass and go see as many things as you possibly can.  
  • There are three great dances, even a midnight dance. Can’t dance? Take a workshop! 
  • Relax; there’s lots of trial and error the first time. Talk to the amazing volunteers at the WFC or Elko Convention Center for guidance. 

Don Newman, executive director of the Elko Convention and Visitor’s Authority:

  • Give yourself plenty of time for dinner before the start of the next show.
  • Check out the gear shows, trade shows, and art shows.
  • Night owls can catch some great jam sessions throughout the town. 

To Do:

Buy a three-day pass, 2018's Cowboy Poetry Gathering Runs 01/28-02/03
Book a room! (Visitor’s center can recommend where rooms might be available)
Download the new NCPG app for iPhone or Android!

Get Your Hands On Some Cowboy Gear...

J.M. Capriola
500 Commercial St.
Elko, NV 89801

DM Bar and Ranch
1020 E. 4th St.
Reno, NV 89512

Mary Jo’s Glitzy Cowgirl Boutique
236 Silver St.
Elko, Nevada 89801


With such a mind-blowing number of things to do in one state, use these tools and resources to help you prepare for an absolutely killer Nevada experience.


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