Payson's Western Heritage Comes Alive


The Rim country celebrates its storied past this weekend with Wild West re-enactments, western art, music, cowboy poetry, and an old-fashioned melodrama.

Residents and visitors are invited to step back in time at the Fifth Annual Rim Country Western Heritage Festival unfolding Saturday, Oct. 23, in and around the Rim Country Museum and Green Valley Park.


Howlin' at the Moon is one of many acts appearing at the Western Heritage Festival Saturday. Jim Cook (left) is the Official State Liar of Arizona. He is joined by singer-songwriter Eleanore Hartz ("Miss Ellie").

An action-packed schedule of events and activities for cowboys and cowgirls of all ages begins at 10 a.m., with a grand finale featuring all participating musicians and cowboy poets on the main stage at 5 p.m. The festival concludes with Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon performances of the western melodrama "Deadwood Dick."

"Looking at what we've done and how we've prepared, this could be the best one yet," local artist Donn Morris, one of the event's organizers, said. "If everything falls in place, it's just going to be a good one. We're going to have a great time."

Old West artisans

Morris is in charge of re-enactments and demonstrations, and he's lined up a cast of artists and artisans who will re-create Payson's "Wild West" days.

They include blacksmith Jaime Escobedo; western engraver Ted Shepherd; Hashknife Pony Express rider Chuck Jackman; Native American dancer Hubert Nanty; and "mountain man" Parry Morton, who plays Sven the Viking each year at the Renaissance Festival in the Valley. Morris himself will do a presentation on how artists have depicted the West over the years.

Other events and demonstrations scheduled for the festival include free admission to the Rim Country Museum featuring "Art of the West" and Zane Grey exhibits, open microphone sessions for musicians and poets, and a children's minifest.

"They'll be doing some art and craft projects, and we're going to provide the materials for them," Morris said. "We've got a Payson rodeo coloring book that the kids will get."

Musicians and poets

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 provide opportunities for anybody to perform. You can count on seeing the following acts all day long on three separate stages:

  • Junction 87

One of Payson's favorite trios performs cowboy and country western tunes, from old time cowboy ballads, to Charlie Daniels fiddle tunes, to Johnny Cash and Hank Williams classics.

  • John Carpino

Payson's favorite solo performer. He has just released "Come So Far," a new CD featuring 11 original songs, plus the George Pittman song "Geronimo.

  • Sue Harris

A native Arizonan with a great sense of Arizona's heritage and history, Harris sings about cowboys and trail rides, quests for treasure, quail, Kokopellis, country dances, and mule rides at the Grand Canyon.

  • Trail Dust

A group of cowboy and cowgirl musicians led by Wally Bornmann from the Valley who plays every instrument and sings just about any cowboy song you can imagine.

  • The Artichoke Sisters

Andy Hurlbut, Barbara Herber and Anne James perform cowboy songs that swing.

  • Arizona Jones

Johnny Richards is a well-known Payson performer, sometimes known as Payson's Troubadour, and sometimes as the Arizona Kid.

  • Dave Smith

An excellent finger-style guitar performer from Snowflake, Smith plays old-style cowboy standards in the style of Chet Atkins and Merle Travis.

  • Caleb Jackson

This 10-year-old acoustic guitar phenomenon will open the festival with the "Star Spangled Banner" and other favorite tunes.

  • Anne James

A Payson singer-songwriter who performs throughout Arizona, James will share traditional, old-time, and folk styles of music. James accompanies herself on guitar, mandolin and harmonica. She and husband Jim own Beeline Music.

  • Sundowners II

This musical duo, consisting of Johni Abrams and Anne James, perform cowgirl tunes and folk music. The name of the group is based on an old movie by the same name, "The Sundowners." James plays guitar, mandolin, harmonica and sings harmony.

  • Howlin' at the Moon

Jim Cook and Eleanore Hartz perform as "Howlin' at the Moon." The Official State Liar of Arizona, Cook directs the Wickenburg Institute for Factual Diversity. A former newspaper columnist, he 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.

  • Joe Miracle

Also known as "the preacher," Miracle has pursued music as a life-long endeavor -- including everything from garage bands to classical guitar studies to playing jazz in college. Miracle is the lead singer of the ever-popular Junction 87 Band. Touted as Tempe's own Bob Dylan, he has opened for such notables as Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jr., Ed Bruce and Crystal Gayle. Miracle will perform with Junction 87 and will present an exciting tribute to country music legend Johnny Cash.

  • Roy Sandoval

Another Payson musician, Sandoval is in charge of the annual fiddlers festival. Sandoval and his talented family perform at many bluegrass festivals across the West and are well known for their expertise and tight harmonies.

  • Chuck and Barbara Casey

Performing as Trouble in Paradise. Their primary focus at this festival will be old songs of the West.

Old-fashioned Western melodrama

The festival concludes with two performances of "Deadwood Dick," an old-fashioned western melodrama produced by the Payson High School Drama Department.

"Deadwood Dick" is a dramatization of a bloodthirsty dime novel, the kind grandpa used to sneak out to the barn to read because if his father caught him reading such "lurid trash" it would mean a quick trip to the woodpile.

In 1876, a little-known writer named Edward L. Wheeler, started turning out dime novels about a Robin Hood of the Black Hills he named Deadwood Dick. Taking the most colorful characters, exciting situations and amusing dialog from those dime novels, playwright Tom Taggart has fashioned this rip-roaring melodrama, complete with long-lost daughters, stolen gold mines, kidnapped heroines, and hairbreadth escapes.

"Deadwood Dick" premieres at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the PHS auditorium, with a matinee at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 24. General admission is $5, and children 12 and under are $3.

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