This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
For Michael Martin Murphey, "Wildfire" is more than just the name of his 1975 crossover hit.
"That song has carried me through so much," the Americana singer-songwriter said of his melancholy ballad that tells of a ghost horse rescuing a mysterious woman.
Indeed, 40 years ago, "Wildfire" topped music charts and broke open Murphey's career.
Thanks to the song, variations of "Wildfire" are the most popular names on the registry of the American Quarterhorse Association including Murphey's palomino mare named Miss Wildfire, he said.
And this weekend, Murphey and his Utah-based business partner will open the new Wildfire Smokehaus, a barbecue restaurant inside the Zermatt Resort in Midway. The opening will be in conjunction with the annual Heber Valley Western Music and Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which runs Wednesday-Sunday, Oct. 28-Nov. 1. (See box for complete schedule.)
Murphey will perform at the resort on Friday, after a ribbon cutting at the restaurant. He also will host the Ghost Town Ball and the Porter Rockwell Wake on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. Attendees are encouraged to show up in their fanciest ghost-town gear. He has other performances on the schedule as well, including one with the symphony from Brigham Young University.
Murphey, a Texas native, said the Smokehaus menu is pure Texas barbecue with brisket, ribs, pork and sides as well as hamburgers, sandwiches, salads and pizza. The restaurant does not sell alcoholic drinks, but guests can order alcohol at the resort's nearby bar.
During a recent telephone interview from his home outside Laramie, Wyo. at a site so remote he had to drive 15 minutes to get within cellphone range Murphey talked more about his love of barbecue, horses and cowboy music. His comments have been edited for space and clarity.
How did the Wildfire Smokehaus come about?
I've known [Utah businessman] Glen Overton, my partner, for more than 30 years. When I first came to play in Utah, he invited me to have dinner with this great big Mormon family, and we have just remained friends for a long time. He called me about four years ago and said he wanted to do a restaurant tied to my music and career. I made Glen promise that we would do Texas barbecue. I wanted it to be Western or Southwestern cuisine because nobody does barbecue like we do in Texas. First we opened the Wild Mustang Grill and Bakery in Orem. That closed and we decided to move the whole thing to Zermatt.
What's your favorite thing on the menu?
I'm a cowboy and I love beef, so the brisket that has been slow-cooked.
You're a regular at the Heber Valley cowboy music event. What keeps you coming back?
I've performed virtually every year since it started. I really go out of my way to get there. It's just been a phenomenal experience. It's professionally run and is as much about the cowboy culture as it is music and poetry. It's become a gathering place for people who wear cowboy boots and hat, even if it's just a hobby. And it's growing. The generation that came to the gathering as children have fallen in love with it and, now that they've grown up, have started supporting it.
On Saturday, you'll host a wake for Porter Rockwell, one of Utah's most notorious characters. What should people expect?
I'm a big Western history buff, and because of that, I know a lot of Mormon history. Generally, I don't like Halloween. I think it should be honoring the dead, not just turning into vampires. At The Ghost Town Ball, people will be dressing Western and honoring the past and people that have gone before us that are heroes.
Will the restaurant bring you back to Utah more often?
Yes. In addition to the concerts on Friday and Saturday, we'll be back in December to play four straight Cowboy Christmas Balls at the Zermatt. The space there is huge, probably fits 500 people. I do a lot of solo, acoustic shows. But this will be my full band. We'll do a full show with drums, keyboards, fiddles and dance tunes where people can get up and Western swing.
You happen to be in Utah the same week as country star Garth Brooks. Have you two ever crossed paths?
I've been friends with Garth since he was a bouncer at Tumbleweeds Honkytonk in Texas. I'm thrilled to be in town when Garth is there. Every time Garth shows up it, just helps country music. I think Garth is a lot like me in that we both struggled before we got that first big hit. And we are both so grateful and thankful to God for handing us this beautiful career. I think whenever you have success, you thank God first.
You'll probably play "Wildfire" at some point this weekend. What as the inspiration for that signature song?
It came to me in a dream that I'm still trying to interpret. But I can tell you it's about longing for freedom and in the West, that's jumping on a horse.
Giddy-up to Heber Valley
The Heber Valley Western Music and Cowboy Poetry Gathering takes place Wednesday-Sunday, Oct. 28-Nov. 1, in various locations. The annual gathering includes nine poets and nearly two dozen musical performers, including Bar J Wranglers, Riders in the Sky and Billy Dean. Here are a few highlights:
Buckaroo Fair • From saddles and hats to jewelry and art, vendors from all over Utah as well as Idaho, Wyoming and California sell their Western works. Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 29-31, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Wasatch High School.
Mounted Shooters • This timed event showcases horsemanship and shooting. Friday, ;10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wasatch County Event Center, Heber City. Admission $10.
Wildfire Smokehaus • Singer Michael Martin Murphey opens his restaurant with a ribbon cutting and concert. Friday, Oct. 30, 6 p.m., Zermatt Resort, Midway.
Home Free • This country a cappella band, the Season 4 champion of NBC's "The Sing-Off," performs. Saturday, Oct. 31, 7 p.m., Wasatch High School Auditorium, Heber City.
Ghost Town Ball • Legendary Porter Rockwell comes to life in this historical show that includes music, dancing and munchies. Western singer Michael Martin Murphey hosts. Saturday, Oct. 31, 8:30 p.m., Zermatt Resort. Adults $27.50, families $65.
Full schedule and prices • hebervalleycowboypoetry.com