Ranch House Speaker

Jake Flake's always up for a good poem -- a good cowboy poem, that is. As the Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, the 69-year-old Republican has been known to filibuster -- figuratively, of course -- a legislative session with some spoken word born on the range.

"Talking in public still bothers me," says Flake, in his fourth and final term in the House. "But poetry doesn't. So, once in a while, I'll stand up in the House and let everyone know that I'd like to quote a Western jingle or an old cowboy song."

On Saturday, May 8, Flake puts down the gavel, dons a Stetson, and picks up a microphone to recite some of his favorite cowboy poetry as part of the 10th annual Lakeside Symphony Concert at North Lake Park at Estrella Mountain Ranch.

But don't expect Flake to show off his own material. "If I've got any talent at all," Flake says, "frankly, it isn't poetry." So Flake will rely on poetry from some of his favorites, including his cousin, Rolf Flake, whom the speaker refers to as a "professional cowboy poet," and Flake's personal favorite, Bruce Kiskaddon, a cowboy poet who lived the life for most of the first half of the 20th century, working on ranches in Texas and Mohave County, Arizona.

"Kiskaddon grew up on the ranch," Flake says. "His poems really meant something to me when I was growing up." So much so that almost every public speaking engagement by Flake includes his recital of Kiskaddon's "Alkali Ike's Zippers," which Flake calls "a short little ditty about buying clothes with zippers instead of buttons. Remember, back then, there were no zippers. Every pair of Levi's was a button-fly."

Aside from the farmhand fashion, Flake says there is spirituality to his treasured art form -- one that favors wide-open spaces over urban sprawl.

"Cowboy poetry is about taking everyday events like a cloud burst, or fixing a fence, or getting bucked off a bronco, and just telling the story," he says.

No doubt, Flake says he'll reprise Kiskaddon's "Alkali Ike" at Lakeside, as well as a couple of other cowboy favorites he's yet to pick.

The event's Western theme, "Saddle Up With the Symphony," meanwhile, includes roping cowboys, a rodeo hoe-down, and a sing-along to "Home on the Range." Under the direction of conductor Robert Moody, the Phoenix Symphony performs such Western selections as "The Cowboy Overture," "Yellow Rose of Texas," "Oklahoma!" and the theme from The Wild, Wild West. The concert, at Estrella's outdoor lakeside amphitheater, finishes up with a fireworks show.

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Joe Watson