Originally Published: August 7, 2014 6:04 a.m.
Musician Mary Kaye has always loved to sing, but it wasn't until she picked up a guitar eight years ago that she would take her talent to the stage.
Mary Kaye was born in Texas and married "a Utah cowboy," so she is accustomed to the ranching life.
"I started playing and writing music when I was pregnant with my 10th child," she said. Her inspiration comes from the "great rural community" where she lives, the "lifestyle of the rural West," and her family.
"I always sang," Mary Kaye said, "but I was busy having babies," and never had time to pursue music. When she picked up the guitar and learned to play, "I found my voice in music," she said.
"Six strings changed my life."
In just eight years, Mary Kaye has won numerous awards, including 2010 and 2013 Female Vocalist of the Year awards from the Western Music Association, the association's 2012 and 2013 Songwriter of the Year awards and the 2010 Crescendo award. In addition, True West Magazine named Mary Kaye the Best Solo Musician for 2013, and American Cowboy Magazine gave her song, "Jealous of the Moon," top honors for 2013.
"I try to keep my songs rooted in what is important to me," Mary Kaye said, adding she also finds inspiration for her music in Western history.
She will perform at 7 p.m. Friday in the Yavapai College Performing Arts Center as part of the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering. A few of the songs she will sing are "Get Along Little Dogie," a classic trail song; "Grow Up to Be Cowboys," which is about her sons; "Arizona In Her Eyes," a love song; and "Once Upon a Horse," which she wrote for her daughters.
The 27th Annual Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering opens tonight with the performance of Dave Stamey, who has appeared in many of the gatherings.
According to Stamey's website, he has been a cowboy, a mule packer and a dude wrangler, and is now one of the most popular Western entertainers working today.
Stamey, too, has won multiple awards from the Western Music Association and in 2010, True West Magazine named Stamey Best Living Western Solo Musician.
Saturday night's performance will feature Kristyn Harris, who, organizers of the gathering say, is "the hottest young musician in the cowboy gatherings world right now."
Harris, 20, a Texas native, specializes in the western, cowboy and western swing styles, but didn't start singing until she was 14, just six years ago. And, like Mary Kaye and Stamey, she has covered her walls with awards, including the Western Music Association's 2013 Cowboy Swing Album of the Year and 2012 Crescendo Award. She has also been named the Academy of Western Artists' Female Performer of the Year and won the Western Music Association's Janet McBride Yodeling Award.
Cowboy songs and old western movies set Harris on her path as a musician, she said.
"I fell in love with that kind of music," so, she said, she got a book and taught herself some guitar chords and "never looked back."
She performs her original melodies and other cowboy songs she loves. Her second passion is training horses, so the songs she composes are often about horses, but she also writes songs about the West.
Or, Harris said, "Someone will say something that sounds intriguing" and she will turn it into a song. "Songs can come from anywhere for me."
The audience will hear Harris originals, including '"Ridin' Away," one of her first compositions, "The Mustang Waltz," about two mustangs she trained, and "Yodel Western Swing," which she co-wrote with other musicians.
The performances, which all feature additional entertainers, begin at 7 p.m. in the college's Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $18 to $30 and are available at the box office by calling 928-776-2000 or by going online to www.ycpac.com.
During the day, cowboy poets will spread out in venues across the college campus to recite their poetic stories about the ranching life from noon to 5 p.m. on Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. There is no admission charge for the daytime cowboy poet performances.
For a complete schedule, visit the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering website at www.azcowboypoets.org.