By Marcia Love
The Maple Creek Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Western Art & Gear Show has been cancelled this year.
Organizers met on Monday, the deadline for tickets to be purchased, and made the decision the 26th annual gathering could not proceed as planned.
The gathering, which was scheduled to be held Sept. 18-20, was cancelled due to a lack of ticket sales.
Eleanor Bowie, a member of the Cowboy Poetry Gathering Committee, knows the news comes as a big disappointment to cowboy poets, musicians, artisans and the many people who enjoy taking in the weekend festivities.
“It’s crushing,” she said. “It’s a crushing disappointment. It was a really difficult decision that we made with really heavy hearts, because we don’t like to disappoint people, but we can’t do it in the red.”
Bowie believes the reason fewer tickets were sold this year is due to electronic issues. Instead of mailing out information to those interested in attending it was done through email, which resulted in many people not getting the notification.
While the 25th annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering last year sold out, with 264 weekend passes purchased, only 150 were purchased as of Aug. 31.
This was the first time the annual gathering has been cancelled.
“We’ve had peaks and valleys in attendance, and we had a lot of issues this year that we’ve never had before,” Bowie explained.
Costs have continually gone up over the last five years, and expenses were much higher this year than they have ever been. As a result, ticket prices were increased. Sponsorship has dwindled, and the committee is not aware of any grants that could be used to offset the cost.
Bowie added the challenge of recruiting volunteers to help organize and assist throughout the weekend also added to the difficulty of putting on the three-day event.
“Volunteer-wise, we’re digging,” she said. “A lot of our people are very elderly. We are trying to retain and promote a lifestyle, and this community is one of the best examples of the kind of life that we’re trying to perpetuate with our gathering.”
Drawing in the younger crowd has been a focus of the committee for the last few years. The junior wrangler session allows young cowboys and cowgirls to showcase their talents through music and speech arts, bringing up the next generation of performers, Bowie said.
The gathering is one of the very few that has an open-door policy, never turning away anyone who wants to perform. The committee tries to keep the cost of the weekend down for performers through its “adopt a poet” program to offer them lodging with locals, as well as offering them meals.
“People leave our gatherings saying, ‘I felt so welcome. The people in Maple Creek are so friendly. I come here every year. It’s one of the highlights of my year,'” Bowie said, noting performers are also eager to arrange to come each year.
Not only is the cancellation disappointing to the performers, artisans and attendants, but the community. Many local businesses benefit from the large crowd the event draws to town every September. Several restaurants have musicians perform on the Friday night, which makes them popular dining spots.
Bowie – who intended to step down from her position as head of the committee this year, but has committed to two more years – is positive things will turn around next year.
“We know where we were weak and we know where we were strong, and we’ll address the weaknesses and we’ll build on the strengths, and next year it will be as good as last year,” she said. “We don’t intend to put on a second-rate show, and that’s part of why we made this decision is we couldn’t do the job that needed to be done, and I hope that people will give us another chance and we can show them that we really can soar with the eagles.”