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Preserving Western heritage in words and music

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Somebody's got to speak up for cowboy poets and Western music songwriters this side of the Mississippi.

Who better qualified than an ex-rodeo bareback rider and former bass player for Wylie and the Wild West?

That would be Shane Queener, who for the past 19 years has hung his cowboy hat on a farm near Lebanon where he has a small string of American Paint horses. The majority of his first 19 years were spent roaming the American West, as his pa preached in places with such backdrops as the Denali in Alaska, the wheat fields of North Dakota, the Gallatin Valley in Montana and the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming.

To boot, Queener's mom gave him his Christian name in tribute to the Alan Ladd gunfighter in the 1953 classic Western film, "Shane."

Fairly new to the game of painting the cowboy and western experience with words, Queener kicked off a monthly cowboy songwriter series, Poets & Punchers, 14 moons ago at Whiskey River Bar & Grill in Lebanon.

He recently prodded Gov. Haslam into proclaiming April 16-22 as Cowboy Poetry Week in Tennessee. To celebrate the fact, he's riding herd on a Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering that will rendezvous at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 21, at American Heritage Trees (457 Riceland Road) near Gladeville. Tickets are $20, and 30 seats are available.

As for the setting, he described it as "a natural partnership."

"What they [Tom and Phyllis Hunter] do and what my hobby/passion is kind of fits together in preserving history in some way or another," said Queener.

(For details about American Heritage Trees, a non-profit venture that raises saplings from seeds of trees that grow at the home sites of famous Americans, go to americanheritagetrees.org.)

The first hour of the gathering will be for palavering and chowing on potluck finger food and desserts. The entertainment begins at 8:30 p.m.

The performers include: Jeff Swanson from Adams, Tenn., a saddle maker, farrier and cowboy singer who plays a guitar that he built. Troy and Ronie Powell of Mt. Juliet. Queener noted, "Ronie's gonna do some poetry and stories for us. Troy, a fine horse trainer, is quite the storyteller himself, so he will be telling stories himself." And Ray Doyle of Nashville, a veteran member of Wylie and the Wild West, who also has a solo career.

Ronie Powell has contributed numerous stories and poems to "Western Horseman" and "Cowboy Magazine." A native of upstate New York, she was fascinated by the Western lifestyle as a youngster. During most of the 1990s, she and husband Troy managed a 50,000-acre ranch in Wyoming, which led to her writing a regular column for the Tennessee Cattlemen's Association magazine.

"My original poems and writing were inspired by real life through the years from when Troy and I were training horses and ranching," she said. "There were so many wild events that happened. They became the subject of a lot of my poems and stories."

Among other titles, she plans to perform at the April 21 event will be "The Line Rider," which was inspired after she witnessed a thunder and lightning storm rolling across the mountains in Wyoming.

Queener will emcee the music and word shindig and may open and close it with a poem.

As for his Poets & Puncher events he said that about 96 percent of the material ends up being sung, thus most of the performers sing songs rather than recite poems.

"From day one, I kind of had a vision of what I wanted it to be, but I'm giving it that grace to become what it needs to be. It's for the agricultural community of Wilson County. We're averaging about 10 [in attendance], but there's nothing like it in the state that I'm aware of," he said.

"There is so much music in Nashville, and very little of it relates in any way to the agricultural community, the equine community, the rural community in general. I wanted to start something that could connect to these people, the rodeo-horse show people, livestock people, and, for the most part, entertainment is on the weekends, and these people are busy on the weekends."

That's also the reason he selected the 7-9 p.m. Monday timeslot.

"It provides an avenue for that community to come together and socialize. And there are some performers out there that have a Western connection that may be getting overlooked for various reasons. These are the people I invited and promoted as them being the headliner. It's not an open-mike situation. Typically, I do the first hour with cowboy and Western songs, and then I bring the guests on for the second hour."

Queener's raising in the West became a defining factor in his life, and that later spurred him to try his hand at rodeoing.

"It was always something I wanted to be a part of. My father was a minister. We always lived at parsonages and never had a place. . . . We always had agricultural connections somehow, and then it wasn't until I was about 25 when I thought, 'I'm gonna do this before time gets any farther away from me.'"

So one night on the spur of the moment, he went to the chute box, borrowed rigging and a glove and entered the bareback riding category at a rodeo in Pikeville, Tenn. He depicted that experience in his first poem, "The Muddy Smile."

"Rodeo has gone by the wayside for now," he said. "I don't bounce like I used to at 44."

Queener, who graduated from high school in Casper, Wyo., in 1990, attended college in Cleveland, Tenn., where he earned an associate degree of music and met his wife-to-be, a Tennessee native.

He had played music in church since he was 10, thus when the opportunity came to play bass guitar with Wylie and the Wild West, he jumped at it, and from 2011 to 2013 performed 50 to 60 shows a year with the band.

These days he is into construction, mostly doing renovations and additions, and currently is building a recording studio in East Nashville.

His entrée into writing cowboy poetry came from his reading "Western Horseman" and witnessing the annual Elko Gathering, aka the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which attracts more than 6,000 to the city of Elko, Nevada.

"The Elko Gathering was always kind of a bucket list item for me. I dreamed of going out and experiencing but never dreamed of experiencing it two years in a row with Wylie and the Wild West," he said.

"I had written over the years, nothing really serious. I would sit down and write, typically coming out of some sort of longing for the West. But getting to be plugged into that crowd as an insider inspired a fire and appreciation for why those guys do what they do: keeping the oral traditions alive.

"You don't find the egos and showboat mentality with those guys. They just appreciate the craft of keeping the West alive in oral traditions."

Queener began writing Western poems and songs in 2012 and has polished off about six and started on that many more.

"A lot of writers, especially if it's their income, they're pretty dedicated to their craft, and they approach it like a job. They get up and set aside time every day to write. I don't do that. I write strictly out of inspiration. If it doesn't originate in the heart and filter its way through the mind, it doesn't end up on paper for me," he said.

"I have written songs that I knew would be songs and have written poetry that could be a song, but music just isn't there from my perspective. Typically, when I sit down to write down a song, it is, and if I sit to write a poem, it stays a poem. To get this style of entertainment out there I think is just a cool thing."


Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering

This event begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 21, at American Heritage Trees (457 Riceland Road) near Gladeville. Performing will be Jeff Swanson, Ronie Powell, Troy Powell and Ray Doyle. Only 30 seats are available. Tickets are $20. Must rSVP at westernwerks@yahoo.com. BYOB. For more info about event organizer Shane Queener, go online to: cowboypoetry.com/shanequeener.htm. For more about the Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry, go to cowboypoetry.com.

Poets & Punchers

This cowboy songwriter series holds forth one Monday night a month at Whiskey River Bar & Grill, 102 Rocky Road, in Lebanon.

Seen here with his American Paint horse, Miss B, and dog, Larue, Western poet and songwriter Shane Queener, who was once a rodeo bareback rider, will be trail boss on a Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 21, at American Heritage Trees (457 Riceland Road) near Gladeville. KEN BECK
A former bass player in Wylie and the Wild West, Shane Queener hosts Poets & Punchers, a cowboy songwriter series held one Monday night a month at Whiskey River Bar & Grill in Lebanon. SUBMITTED
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American Heritage Trees, cowboy poetry, cowboys, Jeff Swanson, Ken Beck, Lebanon, music, Ray Doyle, rodeo, Ronie Powell, Shane Queener, Troy Powell, Whiskey River
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