Despite lower attendance than hoped for, most enjoyed Rifle’s Westfest |

Despite lower attendance than hoped for, most enjoyed Rifle’s Westfest

John Gardner
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

RIFLE, Colorado – While organizers and country music star Michael Martin Murphey were hoping for large crowds at the first Westfest Festival in five years, the highly anticipated show didn’t bring in the numbers that some people expected.

Murphey and his Westfest Festival did go off without a hitch, Aug. 13-15, bringing in visitors and locals alike to the Garfield County Fairgrounds for three days of cowboy music and western culture.

According to Alan Lambert, Rifle City Councilor and a partner in the Midland Arts Company in Rifle, who had a booth at the three-day festival, said that the turnout was pretty low.

“There wasn’t a lot of people there, really,” Lambert said. “Not as much as it used to be.”

Westfest was held at the Copper Mountain Ski Area for a number of years.

Lambert said that over the weekend the art booth barely made back the $450 fee that he was charged to set up.

“We made a little more than that,” he said. “It wasn’t what we had hoped to make.”

Having gone to the festival in previous years, Lambert said that it used to draw huge crowds.

“I knew that it was going to be lighter than it used to be, but we were hoping for 3,000 [people] a day, and I don’t think it met that,” he said.

According to Barry Borchert, a Certified Public Accountant who works with Murphey’s Wildfire Productions, the event sold a total of 2,400 tickets for the three days. That number includes ticket sales at the show as well as online. Those ticket sales included single-day and multi-day passes, ranging in price from $45 for an adult for a one day ticket, to $100 for an adult for the three-day pass, according to the festival’s website,

“They were hoping for more [people],” Borchert said. “The whole thing is kind of a break even for Murphey.”

Lisa Dawson, Garfield County finance director, said that the county was hoping to make back the $150,000 that it put into the show, but wasn’t sure it would see that return.

“We were fully expecting to make it back, but looking at the preliminary numbers it looks like that is not going to happen,” Dawson said.

The City of Rifle contributed $20,000 for the event; $10,000 in cash from the Visitor Improvement Fund, and the city agreed to deduct additional police charges and other associated costs from the remaining funds allocated, according to city finance director Charles Kelty.

According to the contract between Wildfire Productions Inc. and the county, the two would split the ticket sale proceeds in half. Of the county’s half, 88 percent would go back to the county, with the remaining 12 percent going to the City of Rifle.

Dawson said that she will present a list of community activities for the Board of County Commissioners to review at a Sept. 8 worksession.

“We are hoping that at that meeting they will let us know if they are considering having Westfest back or not next year,” Dawson said.

The low attendance numbers, since the festival’s heyday with crowds of 15,000 or more, haven’t stopped Murphey from discussing future shows in Rifle, according to Borchert.

“I know they were happy enough [with this year’s show] to talk about [the possibility of returning to Rifle],” Borchert said.

Murphey released a statement through his press agent, praising Rifle for a great festival.

“It was great being in Rifle for Westfest,” Murphey said. “The people were fantastic and we felt very welcome.”

The statement included that Murphey thought the audience was enthusiastic and the music and festivities were wonderful.

The Post Independent didn’t receive a response directly from Murphey regarding the future of the festival being held in Rifle. However, he mentioned that he would like to be able to expand the festival in future years during a previous interview.

The relatively low turnout made for an uneventful weekend for local authorities.

According to Rifle Police Chief Daryl Meisner, who spent 36 hours at the festival over the three days, “The people that didn’t go missed some good music.”

From a police officer’s point of view, Meisner said there were no reports of major incidents.

“It was very smooth,” Meisner said. “There were a couple of contacts made for minor things but nothing extraordinary.”

Meisner was pleased with the success of the joint-effort Incident Command between the police department and the Rifle Fire Protection District, which was set up on site during the festival.

“It worked out well for that and allowed for us to develop a template for similar events in the future,” he said.

Volunteer coordinator Nita Smith said that she was impressed with all the people who came out to help.

“We did have a very good weekend,” she said. “Our volunteers were awesome, and we couldn’t have done it without them.”

Smith said that there were between 100 and 130 volunteers.

“We had numerous volunteers that worked all-day shifts,” Smith said. “Some worked from the time the festival started to the time it ended.

“We would really like to see Westfest come back,” Smith said.

According to Helen Rogers, Downtown Development Authority manager, the event helped out the two-day Rifle Farmers Market on Friday and Saturday.

Despite an disappointing weekend for Lambert at his booth, he said the show was very good.

“[Murphey] brought in some really good entertainment,” he said. “I was really impressed.”

Lambert said he thinks that it will take some time for this festival to get back to what it once was.

“It’s going to take a while to get people excited about it again,” he said. “You can’t just start off where you were, especially in this economy.

“There is real potential here,” he added. “I hope they will give it another try.”

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