TUSAYAN — Through the dust and herds of cattle, high in the saddle, there's plenty of rhythm and rhyme to being a cowboy. The way a herd is moved along, the style a cowboy displays while doing his work, the graceful flight of his horse running down a stray.
Buck Schrader helped get together the first cowboy poets and musicians gathering at Grand Canyon.
With a background like that, it's no surprise that cowboy poetry and music events have become so popular. The Western-style backdrop of the Grand Canyon lends to that type of atmosphere. As a result, the Grand Hotel in Tusayan is offering the first-ever Grand Canyon Hole in the Ground Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering on Friday and Saturday.
"Poetry seems to make a difference coming from a cowboy," says Buck Schrader, the cowboy entertainer at the Canyon Star Restaurant and Saloon who organized the gathering. "There are some words and phrases people don't understand but they respond anyway. Then they get involved with it."
That's what happened to Schrader. While working for Apache Stables in Tusayan doing trail rides, he hooked up with another local, Ross Knox, who turned him on to the poetry and "what I call, real cowboy music," Schrader said.
Then he saw a video featuring Don Edwards, a notable cowboy musician. Schrader was hooked from there, attending his first gathering in Durango, Colo.
"You spend three or four days at these poet gatherings and you go home thinking in rhyme," Schrader said. "You can't help it."
With a passion for the art, it was natural for Schrader to be involved with getting a gathering started at Grand Canyon. Mike Finney, co-owner of the Grand, had the idea after taking a weekend off about a year ago and going to the annual cowboy gathering down in Prescott.
Then in August, Finney asked Schrader if he could get one going on short notice.
"I started talking to cowboy poets ... and no one said no," Schrader said. "They're all volunteers for us."
And that fact makes this first cowboy gathering even more special. The more than a dozen entertainers on hand will not receive any pay. Schrader said it's not uncommon for the artists to receive up to $1,500 a night for entertaining at the gatherings. But he added, they don't do it for the money.
Schrader borrowed the name from a musical group that used to perform at the Canyon, the Hole in the Ground Sound and sponsors soon came on board.
"Besides the Grand and Canyon Star, the Holiday Inn (Express) jumped on with Air Grand Canyon and IMAX," Schrader said. "I just didn't have the time to get others. Bless Budweiser and Coca-Cola for offering to distribute our posters on their routes. That helps us a lot in this short of time. Of course, the Grand has been great. They're putting up the artists, feeding them and what we're auctioning, that's all they get."
Schrader's talking about a Saturday night auction which will go toward the artists' traveling expenses. Beginning at around 9 p.m., local mule wrangler Ron Clayton will lead the auction, which will surely include many cowboy-oriented items. Schrader's throwing in items of his own, such as the bookends his father made.
In addition, Schrader will auction off one of his trademarks — his long hair. Money raised from that portion of the auction will benefit the Lots of Love charity, a group that makes wigs for child cancer victims.
The poetry and music gathering includes free day sessions on Friday and Saturday from noon-4 p.m. On each day, there will be at least three venues set up in the Canyon Star and Grand. Each entertainer's program typically runs about 45 minutes.
"Nobody sets up a structured program," Schrader said. "They almost always do something different."
Venues will be set up on the Canyon Star's main stage, which will mainly be a musician. Out in the foyer by the steps in the Grand, there will be family-oriented entertainment. And in the hotel's conference room, other poets will be leading sessions.
Besides the free daytime sessions, there will be dinner shows on Friday and Saturday nights from 7-10 p.m. The cost is $20 per person and tickets can be purchased from the Grand by calling 1-888-63-GRAND or 638-3333, or on-line at www.gcanyon.com.
Besides Schrader, other locals participating will be Ross and Patty Knox of Grand Canyon and Jean Bowser of Tusayan. Kevin Johns, who used to be in that Hole in the Ground Sound group, is among the other entertainers. For a complete rundown of musicians and poets, see the graphic at right.
"I think Ross is one of the few who's done every Elko event," Schrader said, referring to the cowboy gathering that started it all, the Elko, Nev., event.
The cowboys and cowgirls will actually arrive Thursday. Schrader said they can then enjoy the Grand Canyon for a day and take in the IMAX movie. And because many entertainers are away from home and can't worship on Sundays, there's the cowboy church.
"Harvey Howell from Babbitt Ranches will do the service here in the conference room," Schrader said. "It will be an informal, nondenominational service. It's open to the public for sure."
Schrader and Finney hope this will not be a one-time event. Plans are to build from this first experience, get more area businesses involved and make it an annual off-season event to draw tourists.