A celebration of western music culture

Michael Martin Murphey brings WestFest back to Red River

By Rick Romancito
Posted 7/10/19

'It's hot down in Texas," as Taos' own Michael Hearne likes to sing in his virtual state theme song "New Mexico Rain," but it's a sentiment that was also expressed by outlaw country …

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A celebration of western music culture

Michael Martin Murphey brings WestFest back to Red River


'It's hot down in Texas," as Taos' own Michael Hearne likes to sing in his virtual state theme song "New Mexico Rain," but it's a sentiment that was also expressed by outlaw country music artist Ray Wylie Hubbard when we talked to him by phone Friday (July 5). "I keep telling Willie Nelson to have his Fourth of July picnic in October," he laughed. "So far it hadn't worked."

Hubbard will join The Last Bandeleros, R.W. Hampton and Taos Pueblo's Robert Mirabal as they appear during Michael Martin Murphey's American WestFest when it returns to Red River today through Saturday (July 11-13) at Brandenburg Park.

Other artists on the bill include Carin Mari, Ryan Murphey, Andy Hedges, Gary Roller and Dennis Rogers. Presented by Murphey Western Institute, the festival also boasts guli dancers, mountain men, western artisans and a trail ride.

"WestFest is a festival about the continuance and the promulgation of the American West culture and all cultures and diversity that we experience in American West history," Murphey explains in a statement. "We're a festival that's about Native Americans, ranchers, cowboys and pioneers, and we're about the arts of the West. Our exhibitors are fine artists and craftsman who sell authentic stuff. We don't do it any other way."

For Hubbard, returning to Red River is a chance to hang out in his old stompin' grounds. "Lookin' forward to get back up there," he said.

Asked what it's like to roll back into town, he quipped, "Well, it's really nice that they've forgiven me. 'All is forgiven, welcome home.'"

Hubbard and Murphey go way back, so far back they can remember what each of them looked like in high school (he was known as "Mike Murphey" in those days). In fact, it was right out of Adamson High School in Dallas, Texas, he went up to Red River for a gig. "It was a lot of fun."

Hubbard said Murphey was "very inspirational in me picking up a guitar. He was in a little group there and he did solo stuff. We had a horrible football team but we had great assemblies. He would come out and was one of the first guys who said, 'Here's a song I wrote.' And I went, 'He's a songwriter!' So, he turned me onto the folk scene in Dallas at the time. He was very inspirational. He still is."

An active environmental and cultural statesman, Murphey created the Murphey Western Institute ( in 1986, which is dedicated to the preservation of the arts, culture, history and legacy of the American West. His American WestFest fits perfectly into that mission, a statement reads.

"This is a concept lifted directly from the old Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West Shows," Murphey states. "The only difference is that we want folks to interact with the participants so they can really experience a personal taste of life in the Old West."

Like the legendary showman's spectacles of 100 years ago, American WestFest features historical reenactments of life on the frontier and a full cast of authentic western characters including cowboys, Indians, mountain men and cavalry troopers.

Hubbard's fit into all of this is a tiny bit odd, mainly because his music is so iconoclastic. If anything, it traces the ups and downs of his life, the times when he partied a little too hearty to when he finally woke up and decided to live the rest of his life sober. Those kinds of realities have a way of infusing the music of a man like Hubbard.

"I started off in folk music, where lyrics are very important, and then in my 40s I got back into a kind of the groove thing. I'd seen Lighting Hopkins and Matt Slipscomb and John Lee Hooker and I in my 40s I said, I wanna play guitar like that.'" As for his songwriting, Hubbard likes to say he takes it seriously, but he takes himself lightly. The title of his last record is "Tell the Devil I'm Getting There As Fast As I Can." It's not a prophesy, he assures us, but it does reflect a kind of cantankerousness he's embracing these days.

Go see Hubbard at American WestFest and see where he's at these days.

Called "the best festival in the USA" by Country Music magazine, American WestFest is billed as "an extravaganza complete with not only top-shelf country and western music, but loads of booths featuring the works of western artists and craftsmen, and a slew of food stands to tantalize hearty appetites."

"I wanted to present the West to people who might otherwise perceive it only through a movie director's tunnel vision," Murphey continues. "The West has become synonymous with fantasy. If Hollywood trends are any indication, the movie screens are alive with politically correct Indians and environmentally challenged villains. Today, cowboys and Indians are united in their quest for open range and a life of freedom. I want to show the real American West."

Murphey is known for smash pop, country, bluegrass and western hits including "Wildfire," "Carolina in the Pines," "Long Line of Love," "What's Forever For" and "Cowboy Logic," among others.

The bestselling singer of American cowboy music, his "Cowboy Songs" album is the first gold album of cowboy music since Marty Robbins' 1959 "Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs." His new release, "Austinology - Alleys of Austin," is a look at 1968-1975 when Murphey, along with Jerry Jeff Walker, Gary P. Nunn and a few others, pioneered the Austin music scene, giving birth to what is now called "Americana" music.

Visit for more information and tickets.


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