Annual event serves as reminder of area's Wild West roots

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FARMINGTON — Linda Mannix and her husband have ranched in the Durango, Colo., area for decades. In that time, they’ve seen the town evolve from largely a ranching, agricultural and mining community to one that is perhaps just as well know for its mountain biking and snow skiing opportunities.

Mannix doesn’t think that’s a bad thing, but she sometimes feels like it’s necessary to put the spotlight back on Durango’s roots.

“I volunteered for this because I wanted to remind people this is a western town,” said Mannix, the executive coordinator of the 27th annual Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which will take place Thursday, Oct. 1 through Sunday, Oct. 4 at locations throughout the city.

Mannix has been with the festival on and off since it was created in 1989 and has worked full time for the event since 2005. The gathering was started by local hat manufacturer Kevin O’Farrell after he attended the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nev. — an event that has served as the grandfather of all such events since its founding in 1985.

That makes the Durango event one of the oldest of its kind, so it’s no surprise the gathering has built the kind of audience it has. Over the course of the four-day event, between 4,000 and 5,000 people will cycle through Durango, Mannix said.

They’ll have a lot to choose from. The gathering features not just cowboy poetry, but live music, film screenings, train rides, trail rides, workshops, art exhibitions, plenty of food and, of course, a parade.

The latter takes place at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 3 in downtown Durango and is billed as Colorado’s largest motorless parade, featuring only horses, wagons, riders, walkers and even llamas, or, as Mannix laughingly put it, “a wide array of western moving things.” Leading this year’s parade will be the U.S. Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard.

Other highlights of the event are two film screenings. “Drawn to Paint,” a documentary about western artist William Matthews, will be shown at 6 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1 at the Durango Arts Center, 802 E. Second Ave., to coincide with a showing of his work at the center. “Unbranded,” a documentary about four young men who broke and trained 16 wild mustangs, then rode them from the Mexico border to the Canadian border across the United States, will be shown at various times at the Animas City Theatre, 128 E. College Drive. The screenings are a new element in the event this year, Mannix said.

But the single largest attraction at the gathering remains the cowboy poets. This year’s headliner is Dave Stamey, who will perform at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Thursday at the Henry Strater Theatre at the Strater Hotel, 699 Main Ave. Other performers include Purly Gates, Mikki Daniel, R.W. Hampton and Ann Sochat.

The gathering’s big names typically perform at night, and Mannix said many of those events already have or are expected to sell out. But many of the daytime events are free, and most festival goers make a habit of strolling around Durango from one event to another.

Mannix isn’t sure how many of those who attend the gathering work with livestock on a regular basis, but she pointed out that Colorado still had more cattle than people as recently as 1986, so the gathering serves as an important link to the state’s not-so-distant past.

“For people who are involved in agriculture or ranching, the stories the performers tell are all about that lifestyle,” she said. “It’s just a unique oral art form, and we’re trying to keep it alive in Durango.”

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610 and measterling@daily-times.com. Follow him @measterlingdt on Twitter.

IF YOU GO

What: 27th annual Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering

When: Thursday, Oct. 1 through Sunday Oct. 4

Where: Locations throughout Durango, Colo.

Admission: Many events are free, but some are paid. Tickets are available online at durangocowboygathering.org.

For more information: Call 970-749-2995

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