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New Riders of the Purple Sage 

Sunday, August 12, at Cain Park, Cleveland Heights.

New Riders of the Purple Sage will close Cain Park on Sunday.
  • New Riders of the Purple Sage will close Cain Park on Sunday.

Gram Parsons was a cosmic American. New Riders of the Purple Sage are psychedelic cowboys. There's a difference.

In the early '70s, Parsons was a country-rock pioneer, baking his dreamy croon in the glorious L.A. sun while pumping his fragile Dixie sounds full of Southern California's favorite drugs: booze, smack, pills, and coke. So yeah, chestnuts like "Sin City" and "She" are totally cosmic in a stoned kinda way, but never psychedelic.

Meanwhile, 400 miles up the coast in trippy San Francisco, the New Riders were jamming with the biggest acidheads of them all, the Grateful Dead. Sporting Wrangler button-ups and Daniel Boone's buckskin fringe, NRPS married desert honky-tonk, creamy folk rock, and mutant vibrations from distant Crab Nebulas.

Between 1971 and '73, the New Riders dropped four LPs that sound as if Pink Floyd and Merle Haggard were dosing with George Peppard's character Cowboy from the sci-fi flick Battle Beyond the Stars. On extended cuts like "Dirty Business," Jerry Garcia feeds his pedal steel through paranoid fuzz and mind-warp distortion.

Over the years, NRPS has released a slew of LPs while going through a seemingly infinite number of lineups. John "Marmaduke" Dawson, the band's chief songwriter and true hippie icon, has retired to Mexico. But another founding father, David Nelson, as well as Garcia's kick-ass successor, Buddy Cage, has kept the panama red burning during the group's recent resurgence as a live act.

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