Western Heritage Festival Celebrates Payson's Past



One of the really cool things about living in the Rim country is our cowboy and Indian heritage. While others have to get their Wild West fix from old John Wayne and Roy Rogers movies, we can literally re-live the past as it unfolded right in our own back yards.

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.


Highlights include "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.

"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. Admission is free, but donations will be collected at the door.

"We just need to get enough money to pay for our scripts and royalties," Siler said.

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 - Caleb Jackson -- This 9-year-old acoustic guitar phenom will open the festival with the Star Spangled Banner and other favorite tunes.
  • 10:00 - 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 her husband Jim own Shaker Music.
  • 10:30 - Jim West -- The lead singer, keyboard and acoustic guitar player with Payson's well-known country western band "Junction 87," Jim is a local favorite. He has performed as a solo act and with bands throughout Arizona for many moons.
  • 11:00 - 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, Jim 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 - Gary Lust -- An up-and-coming slide guitar and country blues performer, Gary 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 - Roy Sandoval -- Another Payson musician, Sandoval is in charge of the annual fiddler's festival.
  • 1:00 - Chuck and Barbara Casey -- Performing as Trouble in Paradise, the Caseys are no strangers to Rim country music fans. Hailing originally from Wichita, Kansas 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.
  • 3:00 - Eddie Armer Band -- Yet another local favorite, Eddie's special brand of western music comes from deep down and spans generations.

Notable western authors

In addition to poetry and story-telling from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m., the Western Heritage Festival also includes a western book-signing from 1 p.m. to 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"), and Jayne Peace and Anna Mae Deming ("A Cultural History of the Pioneer Women of Gila County" and "Rim Country History").

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 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.

The Rim Country Western Heritage festival is free.

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