Last Friday, I got up at 3:30 AM and on a shaky four and a half hours of sleep, I drove 13 ½ hours to Elko, Nevada, home of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.  I went to sing one song (Summer Wages) on Friday night backing up RW Hampton on guitar and vocals along with his son, Calvin.  I hung out on Saturday and then drove all the way home on Sunday. It was a long and grueling trip but I would do it again tomorrow, for two very good reasons: My friend, RW Hampton, asked me to do it and it was a part of a tribute concert for the magnificent Ian Tyson, a man who influenced my music and life more than just about anyone other than the late, great Guy Clark.  There were twelve acts in the show, each person or group singing a favorite Tyson song.  The old man was sitting in the wings and it was obvious that his health is declining. He often had his eyes closed as he rocked to the beat and melody of his timeless tunes but he responded with his trademark humor when folks stopped to pay homage.  Mike Beck hosted the show which included the likes of Brenn Hill, Corb Lund, newcomer/sensation Colter Wall, Ross Knox and Trinity Seely, David Wilkie (The Wind in the Wire) and Denise Withnell of Cowboy Celtic, Dave Stamey, Ryan Fritz, Ned LeDoux, Gary McMahan (The Old Double Diamond) and others.  We each took our turn, focused on doing the best performance we could in order to honor one of the greats of Folk and Western music.  We went on fifth and I was so intent on trying to hear what was happening in the monitors as we worked our way through the song (no sound check, they got it dialed in about a third of the way through) that I didn’t really grasp the magnitude of what we were doing until we were backstage again.  In the eleventh spot, Michael Martin Murphy delivered a slow ballad tribute to Ian and then Ramblin’ Jack Elliott rambled out on stage to finish off the individual performances.  After that, we all trouped back out onto the stage.  Ian stepped carefully over the cables, wires, monitors, etc., assisted by his long-time buddy, Blaine McIntyre and approached the mic.  We went into Four Strong Winds and after a prompt from RW, Ian picked up the lyrics of this classic song that he’d written so many years ago. Being way down the list in terms of importance, I stayed toward the back where I was joined, surprisingly, by Murph who sang harmony along with my melody.  We all glanced around at each other throughout the performance because it really was sinking in that this was a moment that would never happen again.  When the last strains of the unresolved D chord faded, the crowd rose up in a standing ovation for the career of a giant.  Tyson nodded, bowed and left the stage.  Afterwards, the dust seemed to be affecting the allergies of a number of people as there were quite a few red eyes back stage.  We were visiting with Ian afterwards and RW, in an attempt to be positive, said, “That was great, we’ll do it again some time.” Tyson looked at him and with a twinkle and some wisdom in his eyes, responded, “Tonight was magical. There’s no need to tamper with it.”  Not much more to say beyond that.

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