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POP MUSIC REVIEW

WestFest a Paean to Folk Culture

October 12, 1998|STEVE APPLEFORD

To Michael Martin Murphey, songs about "the cowboy life" are worth preserving. "When I sing this music, it's the closest thing to religion or gospel to me," he said on Saturday, Day 2 of his three-day WestFest at Glen Helen Regional Park in Devore.

Murphey created WestFest 13 years ago in Colorado to celebrate the American folk culture abandoned by so much of the country music establishment. At Saturday's all-day affair, he was joined by Lyle Lovett, Chris LeDoux, Suzy Bogguss, Riders in the Sky and other roots-flavored country artists at the festival's first-ever stop in Southern California.

Scattered across the grass, and amid tall tepees, an estimated 5,000 fans rode a stagecoach, watched rodeo demonstrations, heard tall tales and ate barbecue between the music acts.

It was a pleasant, well-organized event, with vendors selling cowboy hats, CDs, Native American pottery, Western-themed artwork and moccasins.

In his own set, Murphey was dressed in a cowboy hat and long cattleman's coat, kicking up his heels as fiddler David Coe deftly blended Western and Celtic sounds. He later dedicated a love song to his aging horse, Thunderbolt, and performed a spry Western swing tune written by his 27-year-old son, Ryan, who joined Murphey on guitar and vocals.

Lovett brought a delicate jazzman's touch to WestFest, and concentrated on music from his new "Step Inside This House," a collection of songs written by Texas artists who have influenced him--from Townes Van Zandt to Murphey himself. His arrangement of dobro and fiddle on the traditional "More Pretty Girls Than One" added new layers of meaning, and the country blues lament "West Texas Highway," a warm duet with Murphey, was a high point of the day.

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