Thursday, November 23, 2006

My Post to the AWA Yahoo group on Nov 24

I've done the Bar-band thing, as a single, duo and with a band. I've even played in the chicken wire cage for orchestrated fights. Top 40 country and some rock. Then, in 1998, someone invited me to a "Cowboy Poetry Gathering". There were about as many performers as audience at the first gathering I attended. Approx 30+ of each. The audience size wasn't what attracted my attention. First, it was the quality of the performers. These weren't the local jam-session cowboys I was used to seeing. These were exceptionally talented performers. Then, they were doing the kind of music that I played for myself in my living room. The old cowboy songs, Marty Robbins, Ian Tyson and even...ORIGINAL MUSIC! Add to that the fact that the audience was there to listen. Not to get drunk, get laid, shoot pool or whatever but to actually pay attention to the performers.

The Cowboy Poetry was also something I had never experienced before. Stories about MY life, told in verse...Funny, sad, frightening but true! I was enthralled and it all changed my life dramatically. I invited myself to another Gathering in Virginia City, Montana; joined the Cowboy Poets of Idaho and turned my back on the bars (hopefully) forever! I've spent 8 of the best years of my life growing from the country singer in a group of Western Performers to a Western Performer who still does the occasional country song. So much for my quick autobiography.

In the past few years, I've researched the more successful Western performers and the organizations that are supposed to help us in our craft. The three main organizations I would discuss are the Academy of Western Artists, the Western Music Association and the Cowboy Poets of Idaho. Each has about the same number of members although the CPI is still running third in numbers. Many of the best performers I know are members of all three. I was a member of all three at one time and even was President of the WMA's Northwest Chapter for a while. Although I never went to a WMA or AWA awards show, I believe that I did get a good insight into what was going on. I have several friends whom I respect who are or were very involved in the AWA and the WMA and we have discussed, at length, our impressions of all three organizations and the reasons for those impressions.

In my opinion, the reason for an organizations existence is to support all its members. In our case, I want to see training/workshops in the things which help me advance my craft. For instance; writing workshops, guitar maintenance, promotion instruction and so on. Organization sponsored or sanctioned Gatherings or shows should provide an opportunity for newer members to not only "showcase" but grow with on-stage experience and advice, instructions and support from the more experienced members.

My impression of the awards shows for the WMA and the AWA has been that they are "showcases" for the more well known performers to "strut their stuff" as well as a place for the unknowns of our world to meet "the right people". It all sounded like a place to compete with my peers, not advance with them. I can do enough of that with things like the Northwest Fair Association or groups like them. Thus, the extreme cost of traveling so far would not have, in my opinion, brought any returns for me. In addition, it seemed that the awards for both of these groups were given to the same people each year...Just different awards once in a while. And, there were rarely Northwestern names in the ballot and almost never a northwestern name in the list of winners, even though I had come to know many Northwestern area entertainers who are the best I've seen, bar none, of Western performers. I'll list a few here but look at the list of featured performers at for a good idea.

One of the best writers, of music or poetry, I have ever met or heard of is Wayne Nelson. Wayne is the only member of the Cowboy Poets of Idaho to have won not only the Golden note Award for music and the Silver Quill Award for writing but is also in the CPI hall of Fame.

Arguably one of the best guitar players in the country today is John Westbrook. John also is a great songwriter and has several songs which have become very popular wherever we have been seen. If you judge by CD sales, in the past five years I've rarely seen John outsold. In fact, at a show we did where we shared the stage with Brenn Hill, Eli Barsi and Joni Harms, the only one who outsold John was Joni.

Bill Chiles has one of the most beautiful singing voices in America and he does Western Music...The old trail songs that we are trying to carry on to the next generation. To show a little conceit, I'll say that I also have a remarkable singing voice and I have written several Western songs which are very popular. I'm one of the few who has ever outsold John Westbrook in CDs! (I put that in just to prod him a little!).

Wyoming Red was a sister duet who had the most wonderful repertoire of old Western songs as well as the addition of their genetic harmony that made them one of the biggest crowd pleasers I've worked with. Another Northern female vocalist that is top notch is Terri Taylor of "Stampede!". None of these great entertainers, with the recent well deserved exception of "Stampede"!, have been noticed by either the AWA or the WMA.

Those of us up here in the Great White North have found that the Cowboy Poets of Idaho meets all the expectations we have in an organization. They do provide workshops at several of their sanctioned shows, they make it a point to help new and younger performers get the stage experience they need and awards from the CPI are granted to different names each year by the overall memberships vote as the other organizations do. But, the list of names on the ballot seems different each year. When you go to the Annual Gathering in St. Anthony, Idaho you usually see new faces on the night show and many new ones in the day shows. Everyone is treated like a star, not just a select few and this, I believe, is the job of an organization such as this one. And I know of several Gathering organizers (I am one) who actively seek new talent to put out for all to enjoy.

Most CPI sanctioned Gatherings have a multi-talent night show with no "headliner" or "top billing". Each performer is treated the same and if anyone is paid, all get the same pay. One of my big frustrations was to be a Day-show performer, for free, and have someone "Headline" the Night-Show (usually for a decent check) who was no better than I and often (here I take a deep breath and show some arrogance) not anywhere near as good! And, don't start with the "You have to pay your dues" line. Read the first paragraph. When you can tell me your Bar-fight stories then we can talk!

I have heard these same concerns about the AWA and the WMA from more than just myself. I know several exceptional performers who once were members of all three groups who gave up on the two Southern groups and focused on the CPI. I'm sure not because of the awards and recognition but because of the family feeling for ALL members and the friendly helpful atmosphere that is a big part of all CPI Gatherings.

If the AWA is in trouble, maybe they could revamp a little and try to be more accessible and friendly towards ALL the members, not just a select few "stars". Possibly an effort to enhance the abilities, help with the problems and address the concerns of everyone would help.

In my case, I plan to be aware of the AWA and the WMA and what they are doing. I count several active members of both organizations as special personal friends and I certainly hope my words here didn't hurt any feelings. At the same time, I feel the need to help CPI grow to be, in the Northwest, what the other two are for the South.

1 comment:

Larry Gibson said...

This post originally went out to the Western Music Association and Academy of Western Artists yahoo groups and I've received several replies from those postings. almost all wer simply two or three lines telling me that I'd said it all and they didn't need to ad anything.