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Music fans have mourned the loss of Salt Lake City's best live-music venue since the demise of the Zephyr Club last October. It wasn't just the listeners who miss the cozy, two-level, music-only club. The Zephyr was a favorite among the artists, too.

James McMurtry's name popped up on the marquee above the Zephyr's corner entrance on a regular basis. Eight of 14 tracks on McMurtry and the Heartless Bastards' "Live in Aught-Three" album, released last March, were recorded during two live shows at the Zephyr on May 16 and 17, 2003.

"This record is dedicated to the memory of the Zephyr Club in Salt Lake City, where some of this music was recorded. The Zephyr had all that a band could ask for: good people and a bad ass PA," reads the album's liner notes.

"It was about our favorite club in the country for a club of its size," McMurtry said in a phone interview during a tour stop in Denton, Texas. The Austin, Texas-based band is working its way toward Salt Lake City, where it plays at the Utah Arts Festival on Saturday night.

"We could have made a whole record from the two shows we played there," McMurtry said. But when The Orange Peel in Asheville, N.C., suffered a similar fate to the Zephyr's, the band added some tracks from a live recording there.

The folk-rocker is no slouch onstage, but he has made his mark as a songwriter - a seemingly unavoidable trait considering his heritage. McMurtry is the son of an English professor mother and novelist father, Larry McMurtry.

Now 42, McMurtry's career took off when his father gave John Mellencamp a demo tape on a movie set in 1987. Two years later, Mellencamp produced James McMurtry's debut album, "Too Long in the Wasteland."

After 15 years of touring and seven albums, McMurtry and his band have played hundreds of clubs across country. And it was a little bar in Salt Lake City that they immortalized.

One of McMurtry's most vivid memories from the Zephyr was one of disappointment - ironically caused by that "kick ass PA." The band had played the night before at the Wooden Dog in Park City where problems with the sound system forced an acoustic set. The next night at the Zephyr, he found himself "eyeing a beautiful blonde."

"I thought we had a great night," McMurtry said. "We were rockin' out."

After the show, McMurtry "got excited" as the striking blonde sought him out after the show.

"She said, 'I just wanted to tell you I loved your acoustic set last night,' he recalled.


The memory of the blonde will eventually fade, but the memory of the Zephyr will survive - if only posthumously - on "Live in Aught-Three."

Heartless Bastards at the Utah Arts Festival

l James McMurtry and the Heartless Bastards perform at the Utah Arts Festival on Saturday night at 8 p.m. at the Amphitheater Stage.

l Tickets are free with paid admission ($7) to the festival.