The Morrison Cowboy Celebration, so the story goes, was conceived early in 1996 when “uncle” Mel Justice was sitting around with a group of locals and sporting a mighty fine, rainbow-colored pair of suspenders. Bob Dougherty was on hand that night when a discussion about Mel’s suspenders led to his mention of a poem called “Billy Carpenter and Smith’s Elastic Braces.” Uncle Mel had never heard it. Bob recited it to Mel and all present, and the idea of a poetry gathering was born.
This inaugural event benefited from the talents of Mary Jordan, who convened a photo shoot at Teresa’s Holiday Bar (that archetypal Morrison saloon) that gave the event a lasting visual imprint. Performers, “saloon girls,” and one unnamed equine launched an image that rocked Morrison for five years running. Debby Mason and Roger Poe signed on as organizers; Patrick Gerace designed a logo and program artwork; and town businesses got involved as sponsors and advertisers. It was a community effort.
The Celebration was a major hit, even that first year! Bob rounded up a few of his friends and put together a show, held at the Morrison Town Hall in early September. Bob Dougherty himself acted as emcee, and other performers included Bill Barwick, Roz Brown, Liz Masterson & Sean Blackburn, Maggie Mae Sharp, and Jerry Walker. According to a later report (we’re pulling from the old website here):
As Morrison’s resident (via Australia) cowboy poet, Bob became the emcee and focal point, known as well for his loud cowboy shirts as for his Down-Under-inflected poetry. Bob was once profiled in Westword, whence this introduction:
Maybe we should start with what the Morrison Cowboy Celebration is NOT. It isn’t a weekend-long festival of all things cowboy. No pony rides, no chuckwagon cookouts. No rodeo. At least, not yet. You won’t find a whole lot of fringe and glitter, but lots of worn jeans and working cowboy hats. It is two grand evenings of some of the best and most diverse cowboy music and poetry you’ll find under one roof at one time. Two evening performances offering a great value for your entertainment dollar. (Because of the small size of the Morrison Town Hall, advance tickets are strongly recommended.)
In the evening, Bob Dougherty works behind the bar at Theresa’s Holiday Bar in Morrison. Dressed all in black, his long gray hair pulled back severely from his face, a cigar clamped between his teeth, he will look up from the taps and say something terse and Western, such as: “Hello, trouble.” He will say this with an Australian accent.
Dougherty is a mass of details: tattoos, earrings, the Three Tenors on CD, an ability to converse in Thai, wine snob, baseball fanatic, extra in the film The Man From Snowy River—”my derriere, anyway”—and, sentimental fool that he is, a tendency to shower women with red roses and Swiss chocolate. —from The Odd Couplet BY ROBIN CHOTZINOFF, Westword, May 23, 1996
At the end of the two evenings, performers launched a tradition for the event by gathering onstage for a rendition of “Happy Trails” to send their audience home on a high note.
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