After its board last year announced the end of the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering’s 33-year run, no one thought it could be done. But event organizer Bob Saul and the Lone Star Cowboy Poetry Gathering Board of Directors pulled off what many thought was impossible.
“It was a great success,” said Saul. “We had more people than we expected. That was very good, and no performers dropped out.”
Saul congratulated the board, and board members returned the compliment. Sales of tickets, branded merchandise, performer CDs, and other merchandise exceeded expectations, and some sessions, including the popular Youth Poetry Contest, had standing-room-only crowds.
Others drawing packed houses included Red Steagall, Jean Prescott, R.P. Smith, and Jack George. Big crowds turned out for the chuckwagon breakfasts, even Friday when the weather was cold and foggy.
Total attendance was estimated at between 1,800 and 2,200. Total tickets issued were 2,106, with 940 for paid afternoon shows, and 1,166 for paid evening shows. Those were not total attendance figures, however, since most bought tickets to more than one show, and the many free shows didn’t require tickets and thus were not counted.
Some downtown Alpine businesses reported brisk activity, and had very positive comments about the Gathering. One said he didn’t hear a single complaint from the Gathering visitors, and performers and audience members alike relayed positive comments to the board after the event.
Saul said the Gathering’s main shortcoming was not enough volunteers, especially on Friday. Some attendees pitched in and helped, along with volunteers from Alpine High School and Sul Ross State University, who scanned tickets and helped direct people.
Planning for next year’s Gathering is now underway, and it’s scheduled for Feb. 19-20. Saul said he and board members have already received emails from people wanting to buy tickets for the 2021 Gathering.
“It’s already scheduled with the university. We had wonderful cooperation from the university and from all the departments,” said Saul. “They accommodated us in every possible way, as did the city’s Visitor Center. We were so pleased with the cooperation we received from everyone, and everyone was happy in every way.”
He stressed that the Gathering was seeking memberships. Local sponsors support the Gathering itself and the performers, but Saul said membership was needed to support the organization. “With something this large, it’s difficult for just the local community to support it year after year,” said Saul. “And we had a wonderful response from the local businesses. It’s difficult to restart something like this, and I was so pleased with the response and the attendance.”
In a statement, Co-Chair Gene Nowell praised the board and many volunteers who worked hard to make the inaugural Lone Star Cowboy Poetry Gathering happen.
"We did two years worth of work in about six months, and clearly it paid off," he said.