TUSAYAN — When the idea for a cowboy poetry gathering for Tusayan came up over a year ago, Arizona seemed like a perfect fit. Throw in the majesty of the Grand Canyon and a community with strong ranching ties such as Tusayan and the scene was set for an event to draw cowpokes from all over.
Kevin Johns of Flagstaff, left, and Sid Hausman from New Mexico performs during last year's gathering.
Now in its second year, the Hole in the Ground Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering features Arizona’s top performing cowboys and cowgirls. Along with a handful of artists from other spots around the Southwest, they come together Friday and Saturday at the Grand Hotel for daytime poetry and song workshops and evening shows in the Canyon Star Restaurant and Saloon.
"It’s an art form, it’s the character of the American West," said Mike Finney, co-owner of the Grand Hotel. "To bring them together at the Grand Canyon is just an exceptional opportunity from a tourism standpoint to build the tourism base at a needed time of the year."
Buck Schrader, resident cowboy at the Grand who is a regular performer in the restaurant, produces the gathering again this year. Schrader said this year’s event has drawn more interest compared to the inaugural gathering last year.
"We have double the number of participants this year," Schrader said. "The word out on the circuit is that this is a good place to come."
As Finney indicated, the event occurs during a slowdown period for Grand Canyon. But the event’s importance as a visitor-drawing tool holds even more importance this year because of economic struggles in connection with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Finney just enjoys providing the opportunity for the Canyon’s international visitors to experience a lesser-known facet of the American West.
"We can share the cowboy culture with folks who come in from around the country and around the world," Finney said. "The poetry gatherings are a tradition throughout the West and they’ve been successful around many communities. This was our opportunity to bring a gathering to Grand Canyon and make it a destination that features this home-grown art."
Finney talks about the potential of the event with confidence and believes it can benefit more than just the Grand Hotel.
"I’m positive it’s going to be bigger and better," he said. "Our goal for the gathering is to see it grow to accommodate the entire community. It’s our goal in the coming year to create a nonprofit corporation to oversee the gathering. In doing so, we’ll be able to apply for special grants and funding and broaden the partnerships. My personal goal is to fill every hotel room at the Grand Canyon during the gathering."
Organizers hope for better weather this year. A blizzard hit the area during last year’s gathering, prohibiting Finney and many others from attending the event.
There’s quite a lineup of participating artists with several hailing from the greater Grand Canyon area. Take a look at Schrader’s family alone. In fact, one of the spotlight events this year will be the "Four Generations" performance on Saturday night. Besides Buck, the oldest of his male siblings, the show will also feature his father, Foster, his oldest son, Bill, and his oldest grandson, David Preuhs.
Schrader said the artists pay their own way to the gathering. On Saturday night, there will be an auction of various Western items to benefit the participants.
"A lot of these artists have to sell things to pay their way," Schrader said, adding that Grand Canyon’s own Ron Clayton will serve auctioneer. "It ought to be a lot of fun. Last year, we got $120 for my hair."
The auction begins at 9 p.m. on Saturday night in the middle of the dinner show.
Another popular event should be Cowboy Church on Sunday morning. This event, open to the public, begins at 8 a.m. in the Grand Hotel’s conference room.
Harvey Howell is scheduled to lead the service with music by Sally Harper Bates.
Day sessions are scheduled for Friday and Saturday from noon-4 p.m. Dinner shows ($30 per person) will be both nights from 7-10 p.m.
For information on dinner show tickets, call the Grand Hotel at 638-3333 or 1-888-63-GRAND.