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Academy Of Western Artists 
Keeping the Heritage of Western Music Alive

by Graham Lees



Each year during the second week of July the Academy of Western Artists Gathering takes place in Fort Worth, Texas culminating with the Will Rogers Awards at the famed Will Rogers Memorial Auditorium. The Academy reports that western music isevening jam session the fastest growing genre with an increase of 300% in membership over the past two years, western album sales up, western artists gaining more work and a whole new generation of performers surfacing.

The Academy of Western Artists is a group of people actively involved in the contemporary cowboy heritage movement. It aims to promote, preserve and protect the positive values inherent in the traditions of western arts. It gives recognition to those who with skill and artistry excel at writing and performing traditional and contemporary western music and poetry. It also holds in the highest regard those that manufacture the gear of the cowboy trade, and those working cowboys who compete in the sport of ranch rodeo, along with the time-honoured arts of campfire and chuckwagon cookery.

The AWA has made great developments in promoting the independent western Sisters of the Silver Sage performing at the AWA conventionartists. Donna Guffey of The Sisters of The Silver Sage feels that being a member of the AWA has greatly bolstered their career. "First of all....we get to meet person to person with all the great performers and entertainers that we've listened to for years! But most of all....the AWA has provided us with a list of radio stations and DJs who have agreed to play our music! In our part of the country, Bluegrass and Country Music reigns.....and so it has really been beneficial to us to have all those wonderful DJs and radio stations out west playing our CD! The AWA also provides information on those agencies and businesses that support the performing artist and his music.....publishers, record labels, chart activity, playlists. And each year at the convention there are workshops and seminars that provide useful information for the artists as well!"

Curly Musgrave is one of the leading performers on the western scene…." The AWA iswestern singer/songwriter Curly Musgrave a growing organization, evolving really, and so like any such process, there are ups and downs. Overall, my sentiments are quite positive and I feel, within the genre, it has been of benefit to my career. I think, as time goes on, there will be a better focus and draw with those 'outside' the genre to generate interest and move us more toward the mainstream music audience without losing our identity as Western performers. That's always a tricky process and requires the infrastructure that they're trying to get in place. The award system, while small compared to CMA/ACM standards, and perhaps skewed in some ways, has given me a number of awards and some attention, that looks good on resumes and boost one's stature within the genre. It has also been a wonderful 'networking' vehicle and allows us to become informed about goings on within' the genre, assuming they cowboy chuckwagon cookout competitorspublish and publicize a relatively unbiased cross section of information. Some of my best friends and connections come within the Western genre."

2004 saw the general public being invited to attend the AWA convention for the first time and I was trilled to receive an invitation due to my constant support of western music through my articles and regular radio show The Western Hour. This year's convention took place over 9th - 13th July at the luxurious Doral Tesoro Hotel and Golf Club.  

Various activities, workshops, showcases and evening entertainment was the order ofSandra Herl at the chuckwagon cookout the weekend. Chuckwagon cookout competitions took place outside with prizes awarded for the best food and after the judging; food was available for all to taste. Inside we found a trade show containing many stalls with goods for sale including western works of art, CDs, clothing and fancy goods. Stands could be found representing the Rex Allen museum in Kansas and the Georgia based Booth Museum. Throughout the day, artists showcased their music, much of which is self-penned and cowboy poetry gaining a great deal of interest. The First Annual Cowboy Poetry/Songwriting Team Roping Challenge also took place with the teams having a set theme and five minutes to wrangle words rather than calves. I had the delight of being invited to be AWA member and performer Joni Harms with Graham and wife Marleneone of the five judges, seeing strong competition with the teams being judged on various aspects and cash prizes awarded.

After the hustle and bustle of the day's activities, the evening entertainment offered an easy relaxed atmosphere with special performances from top western swing bands Dave AWA members and performers Washtub Gerry and Kip CalahanAlexander and the Legends of Western Swing, Bobby Flores, Ted Scanlon & Desperado, plus a host of AWA members adding to the weekend's performances. Radio D'J' and presenters added to the evening entertainment by producing a radio format with their own special guests being interviewed and performing on stage. I was thrilled to take part in this format together with my own guests, western singer/songwriters Jean Prescott and Fletcher Jowers along with the five-piece band The Texas Trailhands joining me on stage. 

The five-day event built to a climax with the prestigious the annual Will Rogers Awards Show…conceived to promote awareness of the depth and breadth of the organisation as well as highlighting the year's outstanding group and individual works. The winners of each category received a statuette of Will Rogers, with a total of twenty-seven awards being given to the winning artists, DJs and radio stations. 

Without new blood showing interest in any genre of music, the music will surely fade AWA member and western singer/songwriter Fletcher Jowersaway completely. Young talent is encouraged to come into the western fold in Fort Worth through the Cowtown Opry Buckaroo Club; a western talent-school meeting monthly for children under 17 years run by Janet McBride, Devon Dawson and Dale "Sourdough" Myres. Started in 1997, The Buckaroos is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation, performance, and promotion of Texas heritage music. Janet McBride and one of the youngest members of the BuckaroosGreat strides are taken to instil the traditions of western music into the little Buckaroos and keep the memory of Patsy Montana…the greatest of female western performer blossoming, with kids coming from far and wide to learn to yodel just like Patsy did. In conclusion I would just like to thank the organisers Sandra Herl and Bobby Newton for their kind invitation and the hard work they put into keeping western music, western poetry and other art forms alive and kicking and giving inspiration to a new bread of up and coming western artists and performers.

2004 Academy of Western Artists (performer) winners

1-Entertainer of the Year-Sons of the San Joaquin 
2-Rising Star-Kata Hay
3-Cowboy Poetry-Male Andy Hedges 
4-Cowboy Poetry Female Doris Daley 
5-Cowboy Poetry Book: Born to This Land, Red Steagall/Skeeter Hager 
6-Cowboy Poetry Album: Sons Of A Gun Stew, Dennis Gaines 
7-Cowboy Poetry Humor-R.J. Vandygriff
8-Western Music Male Vocalist-Brenn Hill 
9-Western Music Female Vocalist-Belinda Gail 
10-Western Music Yodeler-Wylie Gustafson 
11-Western Music Duo/Group-Sisters of the Silver Sage 
12-Western Music Song-Paint Her Real-Donnie Blanz/Melinda Bailey 
13-Western Music Album/CD-Let's Put Western Back In Country-Joni Harms
14-Western Swing Male Vocalist-Dave Alexander 
15-Western Swing Female Vocalist-Christine Mims 
16-Western Swing Duo/Group-Desperados 
17-Western Swing Song-We're Proud DubYa's From Texas, Cindy Walker/Shelly Lee Alley, Jr. 
18 Western Swing Album-Sweet Sentimental Dreams-Ginny Mac 
19 Western Swing Instrumentalist-Bobby Flores