Cowboy poet rides into Keystone
KEYSTONE – Baxter Black, cowboy poet, comedian and starvin’ cattle feeder, rides into town with his hilarious, poignant musings on rural life.
Black has spun tales of ranching life on “The Tonight Show,” National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service. His weekly columns, which run in 130 newspapers, give rise to the stories and philosophical viewpoints he shares with his audience. He also has a new book, “Horseshoes, Cow Socks and Duck Feet,” scheduled for release Sept. 13.
Storytelling and music are as natural to Black as milking a cow. He grew up in rural New Mexico and practiced veterinarian medicine for 13 years, until he was laid off about 20 years ago. While he was a vet, he presented his stories and poetry to veterinarians and county fair audiences, and after he left his job, the phone kept ringing with requests to perform his cowboy poetry.
“Not by choice or on purpose, (I) became an entertainer,” Black said. “It was just one of those forks in the road that you take. … I wrote songs (beginning) in my 20s. I always told stories to cowboy friends. The farther I went and the more times it was told, the better the story got.”
Johnny Carson invited him to appear on “The Tonight Show” 20 years ago when the urban cowboy craze blew in like a long-awaited storm.
“Here came these people who were authentic,” Black said about his six-time stint on the show. “Here are these people telling stories that are clever and funny, and yet they’re not all about sex. We could have been the butt of their joke, but Johnny Carson (didn’t treat us that way).”
Though Black couldn’t name a single poet – cowboy or otherwise – when he first began writing poetry, he liked the precision of the form.
“There’s a big difference between telling a story about somebody and putting them in a poem,” he said. “It has a different impact. Songs are fuzzy, but poetry is not. Poetry is concise. Poetry is welded into place.”
“The kind of poetry us cowboy poets write are really stories, and they’re usually really funny,” he said.
Black’s cowboy poetry captivates audiences with its hilarity.
“People will e-mail and say “I haven’t laughed so hard in years,'” said Vicki Tedford, Black’s secretary. “His stories are mostly humorous, and occasionally they’re accidentally informative.”
Performer and fellow cowboy poet Don Edwards has likened Black to a Will Rogers action figure with his animated stories.
“He doesn’t just stand up there and recite his poetry,” Tedford said. “He acts it out. Just some of the contortions he gets himself into and his facial expressions are hysterical. The other thing that makes him unique is he is so very down-to-earth and he’s so very accessible to his audience. He makes sure of that.”
Black caters to his audience, dividing his presentations into generic ranch stories and “cowy,” or more insider, agricultural stories.
“I tell the agricultural community stories about themselves,” Black said. “I write about animals and the people who care for them. … Because you get hurt so often working with livestock, (it) is a gallery of humor.”
Black rounds up the audience at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the Quandary Peak Room at the Keystone Conference Center. Tickets are $22 and may be purchased by calling (970) 453-3187. All proceeds from the event will benefit the Colorado Veterinary Medical Foundation, which controls pet overpopulation in Colorado through its spay and neuter clinics.
– When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10
– Where: Keystone
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