ALPINE, Texas – As the third weekend in February approaches, anticipation is building toward the Lone Star Cowboy Poetry Gathering’s inaugural event on the campus of Sul Ross State University.
Picking up the torch of the previous Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering, the new nonprofit organization has invited cowboy poets and western songwriters from across Texas and other western states to participate in an event known for its attention to tradition.
Among those scheduled to perform, Jean Prescott, a native Texan, looks forward to sharing her life-long love of music.
“I started singing to the radio with my granddad when I was about two,” she recalls.
As a teenager living way out in Glasscock County where her family could only pick up one radio station, Prescott taught herself guitar by playing along with the country songs. As a result, country music naturally became her genre of choice.
When Prescott visited Fort Davis in February of 1989, she could never have anticipated how her decision to swing by Alpine would not only impact her music career but also the course of her life.
Around noon she stopped for lunch and found herself in a restaurant along with quite a few cowboys. Accustomed to ranching folks, she quickly noted that these men were dressed up. Since several of them left the restaurant when she did, Prescott took advantage of the opportunity to satisfy her curiosity. She followed them. Within minutes, she found herself on the Sul Ross campus buzzing with cars and people.
“Okay,” she thought as she watched the crowd heading for a building, “I’m going to see where they are going.”
Seated inside a lecture room, Prescott listened to Joel Nelson and several other poets. “I was just blown away,” she remembers. “I had never seen anything like it.”
Next, she followed a crowd into Marshall Auditorium. She had noticed that several people had carried guitars into the building and knew she could not miss the show. Once seated she listened to the performers singing old cowboy songs to the accompaniment of their guitars.
Kay Nowell stepped up to the microphone and recited her poem about taking her prize bull out to pasture. Prescott was hooked. One thought rode over all the others. “These are my people, and this is my music.”
Although she did not return to the poetry gathering for several years, Prescott soon began transitioning her music from country to cowboy.
In 1993 she returned to Alpine never guessing that more than music awaited her. Soon after her arrival, a new acquaintance, Fran Hedrick, introduced her to Gary, a cowboy with a black mustache and a black hat.
On Friday evening as a group swapped songs around the campfire, Prescott started strumming “Last of the Singing Cowboys,” a song by Baxter Black that incorporates a bit of yodeling.
As she sang, she noticed that Gary leaned over and whispered something to Fran. Seconds later, Prescott broke into a yodel. Fran started laughing while Gary grinned and turned bright red.
The next year, Jean and Gary were engaged in Alpine. A few years later after the couple had married, Fran shared the rest of the story.
That night beside the campfire Gary had whispered to her, “If she yodels, I’m in love.”
As time went on, Gary and Jean not only wrote and performed their own western songs but also began performing together.
On February 21 they are scheduled to sing in a joint performance at Spicewood Restaurant on the west side of Alpine – a new venue for the Gathering’s evening show.
“I am absolutely beyond thrilled that this group has picked this up and is going to carry it on,” Prescott says about the group now organizing the Lone Star Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
Prescott loves the simple authenticity reflected in both the poetry and music of the Alpine gatherings because they have preserved not only the genre but also the western lifestyle.
She also views Alpine as the perfect location for such an event.
“People come out there from all over the world to hear this cowboy poetry and cowboy music and they are not distracted by anything,” she observes. “They are in the zone of the cowboy world in Alpine, Texas.”
For more information about the event schedule, volunteering, or serving as a sponsor of the upcoming Gathering, visit lonestarcowboypoetry.com.