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Summer Splash | Pop Music : Weekend Chat

Rambling Down the Trail of Western Music

May 25, 2000|RANDY LEWIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In addition to remembering veterans this weekend, the Autry Museum of Western Heritage has assembled a three-day program to help visitors remember the long and colorful history of music of the American West.

It's a special edition of the museum's monthly Wells Fargo Western Serenade series, which for 10 years has showcased not only cowpoke and lone-prairie tunes, but also the music, dance and folklore of Native Americans, Latinos and African Americans living in the West.

Mike Mahaney is a western music aficionado as well as a member of Trailmix, a Glendale-based trio that will play the series in October. He's also a member of the advisory board for the 1,000-member Western Music Assn. and has hosted western and country music radio programs on KCRW-FM (89.9) and KCSN-FM (88.5).

Question: How popular is western music nowadays?

Answer: It's niche music--very much so. I'd put it alongside bluegrass, though it's probably not as popular as bluegrass. But it has its fans, its musicians, its venues, and it's growing. Here in Southern California we have a couple of groups, like Cowboy Nation and the Lucky Stars, whose members are young and who are breathing some life into it.

Q. Is "new life" necessary, or can this kind of specialized music continue as it's always been played?

A. What I've seen in the last 10 years since the formation of the Western Music Assn. is that there are a lot of groups that are very talented and they're turning out some very good records, but they are museum pieces. They're trying to copy the Sons of the Pioneers, but the innovation has been missing.

Q. How do fans of traditional western music respond now to the spirit of innovation?

A. I presented Tony and Chip [Kinman] in their first gig as Cowboy Nation three years ago at the Topanga Festival, and there were traditionalists from the Western Music Assn. who all but booed them. However, there were also people more broad-minded who saw where this music needs to go and who clearly embraced them. You always run into that type of fan who says, "No change!" I think imitation is very flattering; however, as we know for music to grow, the boundaries have to be pushed.

Q. Are there any signs that western music is attracting new fans?

A. Because of the "Woody's Roundup" song in "Toy Story 2," [written by Randy Newman and sung for the movie by Riders in the Sky], we're starting to see some new people at western events. I'm seeing men in child-rearing ages from about 28 to 40 bringing their children to Riders in the Sky shows, even though some of them had not known much about the Riders. At the same time, I also see people more my age--I'm 60--bringing their sons or daughters and their grandchildren. So even just a song in a movie can breathe life into something like this.

BE THERE

Wells Fargo Western Serenade series, Autry Museum of Western Heritage, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles. The Eagle Spirit Dancers appear Saturday, the Lobo Rangers play Sunday and folk singer Ross Altman plays Monday. Performances at 12:30, 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. in Heritage Court. Free with museum admission, $3 to $7.50.

Museum hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays and selected Monday holidays, and to 8 p.m. on Thursdays. (323) 667-2000. For information on the California chapter of the Western Music Assn., call Jeffrey Barber at (323) 660-0558.

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