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Westfest comes to Rifle

John GardnerPost Independent StaffGlenwood Springs, CO

RIFLE – Michael Martin Murphey is a cowboy who loves the Old West.Some of his best memories growing up near Dallas, Texas, were sitting around the campfire and singing cowboy songs.”When I get around a campfire with a guitar, my true nature comes out,” Murphey admitted. “I grew up on a ranch, and at the end of the day when the work is done you sit down and have some beans and steak and sing some cowboy songs. I’ve never gotten past that. I’ve just gone full circle.”Michael Martin Murphey’s decision to take a break from his highly popular Westfest festival in 2004 wasn’t because he was burned out after doing the festival for close to two decades – he just wasn’t able to take it to the next level.”Really, the main reason I took a break from Westfest was, I couldn’t find a venue that could handle everything that I wanted to do,” Murphey explained. “I’d been doing these events at ski resorts, but they don’t have a lot of the arenas and grandstands for horse events.”In the five years since the last Westfest festival at Copper Mountain was held, Murphey continued touring and making music. He also continued looking for a venue that would allow him to host the type of western cultural festival, with new attractions like the Outback Outdoors Exhibition hosted by Trevon Stoltzfus, outdoor and hunting seminars, and even the Westfest National Ranch Sorting Championship.Rifle was the placeWhen organizers approached him with the idea to have the three-day festival in Rifle, Murphey jump at the opportunity to once again bring his festival to life.He had found the right place for his trademark event.”Rifle is one of the last real Western Colorado towns,” Murphey said. “It’s just dripping with tradition of the Old West.”It’s that Old West character that Murphey felt would make a great home for Westfest which begins today and runs through Sunday, Aug. 15 at the Garfield County Fair Grounds. The indoor arena allows for the new outdoor and hunting exhibitions, and the grandstands and outdoor arena allow for a great place to perform, Murphey said.”I’d just never had a facility like that before,” Murphey said.The county fair grounds in Rifle re-energized Murphey to bring back Westfest because it would allow him to expand the festival and include more attractions.Murphey said that all the years of Westfest, he’s never been able to fully reach his dream of what the festival could be. However, he said, that the facility in Rifle gives him that opportunity.”I said that I would never do it again unless I could find a venue that would work,” Murphey said. “This opens up total freedom of my dreams.”Music makes the showWestfest, “It’s like a three-ring circus,” Murphey said. “You’ve got so many things that you can do besides sit and listen to the music.”Murphey knows that it’s the musical lineup that draws the crowds. Along with a talented lineup of musical guests including the likes of Craig Morgan, Patty Loveless, the fun-loving trio Trailer Choir, and country music sensation James Otto, Murphey is excited for the festival to begin.”It’s a combination of a festival and a pretty serious presentation of music,” he said.When asked what separates Westfest from other country music festivals, Murphey said “(Westfest) is perpetuating something that I believe is terribly important, and that is our ranchers, our farmers, and their culture.”Without them, the backbone of this nation would be nothing.”Murphey himself, as an artist, said that this is a good time in his career to bring back the popular cowboy festival. “It’s like hunting, when you first start hunting with a bow, it’s a lot more difficult to start out than when you have been doing it for a lifetime,” he said. “It gets easier because you learn what works and what doesn’t work.”And even after touring and performing for over 40 years, Murphey, 65, said that it never gets old.”The difference is when I first started out, I played anywhere because I really needed gigs,” Murphey said. “But, now I can be a little more selective and pick the ones that I know I’m going to have fun at.”Having a career in the music industry that spans four decades, Murphey says it’s his ability to tell a story that connect people to his music.”I’m a storyteller,” said Murphey after a moment of reflection.Down deep inside everyone, Murphey believes that there is a kid that wants to be told a story. Whether it’s a story around the campfire, a ghost story, or a story that tells you a little something about life, it’s the stories that people relate to.Throughout his career, Murphey has stayed true to his cowboy roots, and he’s remained a storyteller going around collecting stories from all the people he meets and write songs about them.”If you tell the interesting stories, people are going to relate to them because you are talking about people and what they go through.” Murphey said.And bringing Westfest back to life is like a dream come true for Murphey.”It’s come a long way. It’s been a lot of fun,” Murphey said, “And it’s going to continue to be a lot of fun.”


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