Last Saturday and Sunday the 17 and 18 of July, otherwise known as Bohemia Mining Days weekend, tunes of Patsy Cline, Bob Dylan and a song called “Penguins and Polar Bears,” written by elementary school kids, acted as a set of swan songs for an iconic duo.
Cowboy Buck and Elizabeth performed for what will be their last time at BMD as they were elected as grand marshals of the Grand Miner’s Parade. After nearly 20 years of fun and songs at BMD, they are retiring to Oklahoma to be with family.
“We kind of planned for it. It just happened a couple years sooner than we had planned for, so it’s okay. And who could know that Covid was gonna change the course of life?” said Elizabeth.
She and Buck were not able to do a reunion or retirement tour of sorts because of the timing, but “we always joke and say ‘we’ll come back some day and do a tribute to ourselves.’ So we’ll be back someday,” she said.
The two have been traveling the Pacific Northwest for roughly three decades teaching kids to write music and perform through their “education through entertainment” program.
Now, after so many years, some of the kids the duo visited in school are all grown up with kids of their own. But they still remember the time Buck and Elizabeth taught them to make music.
“I’ve had kids come up and say ‘do you remember this song? I wrote this line.’ They remember their own song,” Buck said. “Because I would sit with them when we wrote the song and say ‘who wrote this line?’ And they would raise their hand ‘oh the teacher wrote that one’ and sometimes three hands would go up because they all added words because we sat there and wrestled with the sentence and switched things around.”
Buck and Elizabeth have written thousands of songs with kids, Elizabeth estimates. And not only have they written songs in English, but also Spanish and with sign language included.
“I always sat in font of [the kids] because we weren’t expecting them to remember the dance or the sign language or whatever to do in a very short period of time,” she said. “So, I’d sit in front of them and do it all with them but then I’d find I don’t have to. Because they’ve picked it up because it connects with their song.”
“When you do a song that you co-wrote with kids, or that you wrote,” said Buck, “that’s the greatest honor because it’s our words. They’re singing our words and we call it celebrating our smallness.”
Most of the time the kids would learn a song and performance in a couple days and then Cowboy Buck and Elizabeth would move on. “And then when you leave, it’s, I can’t think of a time we didn’t cry when we leave a school because you get attached to them,” said Elizabeth.
They may have toured to schools all around the Pacific Northwest, but they say Cottage Grove will always be special to them. “It’s exciting, it’s really exciting to know that we’ve been a part of something that’s just feels like home. It just feels like home. I don’t know how else to say it,” Elizabeth says.
For now, Cottage Grove will miss them, but one day they may grace this small town with another performance, perhaps a part of their own tribute tour.
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