Rim country residents and visitors alike are invited to step back into the area's storied past at the Fourth Annual Rim Country Western Heritage Festival unfolding this Saturday, Oct. 25, in and around the Rim Country Museum and Green Valley Park.
Festivities begin at 10 a.m. and continue until 4 p.m. with an action-packed schedule of events and activities for cowboys and cowgirls of all ages.
Western music and cowboy poetry
Cowboy music and poetry have been staples of the Rim Country Western Heritage Festival since its inception and this year is no exception. An open microphone format will permit anybody who wants to perform, but you can count on seeing the following:
- 9:45 a.m. - Caleb Jackson -- This 9-year-old acoustic guitar phenom will open the festival with the Star Spangled Banner and other favorite tunes.
- 10 a.m. - Anne James -- A Payson singer-songwriter who performs throughout Arizona, Anne will share traditional, old-time, and folk styles of music. Anne accompanies herself on guitar, mandolin and harmonica. She and husband Jim own Shaker Music.
- 10:30 a.m. - Jim West -- The lead singer, keyboard and acoustic guitar player with Payson's well-known country western band "Junction 87." A local favorite, West also performs as a single and with bands throughout Arizona.
- 11 a.m. - Howlin' at the Moon -- Jim Cook and Eleanore Hartz perform as "Howlin' at the Moon." They live in Wickenburg where Cook, official state liar of Arizona, directs the Wickenburg Institute for Factual Diversity. Jim is a native Arizonan who spent much of his Childhood on the top side of the Mogollon Rim at General Springs and Long Valley. A former newspaper columnist, Cook has written nine books about Arizona. Singer-songwriter Eleanore Hartz ("Miss Ellie") spent her entire life in the San Francisco Bay area before she moved to Arizona in 1994.
- 11:30 a.m. - Gary Lust -- An up-and-coming slide guitar and country blues performer, Lust is spreading his wings in the Payson area with an eclectic mix of old time favorites and country blues.
- Noon - Joe Miracle -- Joe was born and raised in the Southwest and music is his life-long endeavor -- including everything from garage bands to classical guitar studies to playing jazz in college. Touted as Tempe's own Bob Dylan, he has opened for such notables as Hank Williams Jr., Ed Bruce and Crystal Gayle.
- 12:30 a.m. - Roy Sandoval -- Another Payson musician, Sandoval is in charge of the annual fiddlers festival.
- 1 a.m. - Chuck and Barbara Casey -- Performing as Trouble in Paradise, the Caseys are no strangers to Rim country music fans. Hailing originally from Wichita, Kan. the couple has been playing music together for nearly 20 years, including an eclectic collection of styles from Bach to rock. Their primary focus at this festival will be old songs of the West.
- 3 a.m. - Eddie Armer Band -- Yet another local favorite, Eddie's special brand of western music comes from deep down and spans generations.
Other events and demonstrations
Other events and demonstrations scheduled for the Western Heritage Festival include a quilting exhibit by the Shoofly Quilters, an old-time photography demonstration, a goat milking and cheese making exhibition, a cowboy illustration demonstration by local western artist Donn Morris, Native American dancers, a cowboy roping demonstration by Payson High School teacher Wendell Stevens and his FAA students, a Smokey Bear presentation by Gary Roberts of the Payson Ranger Station, a saddlemaking demonstration by Nadine Harris, and a children's minifest with archaeological and other fun activities like pot painting. Check the schedule of events for times.
Western authors book-signing
In addition to poetry and story telling from 1:30 to 3 p.m., the Western Heritage Festival also includes a western book-signing from 1-3 p.m. featuring such notable local authors as Marguerite Noble ("Filaree"), Jinx Pyle ("Looking Through the Smoke" and "Blue Fox - War to the Knife"), Jayne Peace and Anna Mae Deming ("A Cultural History of the Pioneer Women of Gila County" and "Rim Country History"), and Carol Osman Brown (one of 11 co-authors of "Arizona Goest to War: The Home Front and the Front Lines During World War II").
Another festival highlight is "Chickenheart," an old-fashioned western melodrama staged by the Payson High School Drama Department. The play, by Craig Sodaro, was written to take place in England in 1340, but PHS drama teacher Kathy Siler and her students have moved it to the Arizona Territory for this performance only.
"When the students first read the play they loved it, and they kind of balked when I said we're going to set it in the Arizona Territory," Siler said. "Then we went through it line by line and talked about the Arizona Territory and how one segment of society that was very formal and refined and came from the East wanted to refine the West. Once they understood the lifestyle, they saw how the content fits very well."
Siler explained the transformation.
"In the original version, the king's tax collector was the evil villain and his assistant was the assistant villain," she said. "The main lady character, the ingenue, is Lady Emma Chalfont whose parents die and leave her a fortune. Sir Cutbert Cleever, the villain, wants the fortune.
"At the Western Heritage Festival, it's going to be the territorial governor's tax collector, and we've changed the dialog to ‘update it' to the Arizona Territory."
Eventually Lady Emma hides out in a nunnery to escape from the villain. The one-act play concludes with a variety show staged by the nunnery to earn money to pay the tax demanded by the tax collector.
Sophomore Megan Miles plays Lady Emma, while Senior Billy Chester is Sir Cleever.
"It's really fun for Billy Chester, because two years ago he played the phantom in "The Phantom of the Soap Opera," Siler recalled. "He's really enjoying reprising that villainous role."
"Chickenheart" will be performed one time only at 3 p.m. in the historic Rock Building at Julia Randall Elementary School.
All Western Heritage Festival events and activities are free, but donations will be accepted at the melodrama to cover the cost of scripts and royalties.