Waco gets a double dose of Cowboy Christmases — one classic, the other cosmic — this week with two nationally known singer-songwriters bringing their versions to the Waco Hippodrome.
Veteran Western musician Michael Martin Murphey brings back his Cowboy Christmas Show, 25 years old and still going strong, for a Thursday night performance. Robert Earl Keen, whose “Merry Christmas from the Fam-O-Lee” show rocked the Hippodrome in 2016, returns with this year’s version, the Cosmic Cowboy Christmas tour on Wednesday.
For Murphey, the quarter-century milestone signifies the enduring appeal and value of the Christmas music built into the show based on the long-running Cowboy Christmas Ball of Anson, a tradition dating back to 1885.
That ball blended Christmas carols and cowboy ballads with boot-scooting waltzes and schottisches, a combination that Murphey expanded and amplified through his years of research in Western and cowboy music.
Keeping it fresh
He’s kept it fresh over the years by swapping out stories and songs while remaining true to the acoustic roots and respect for the Christmas story at its core, as did the ranch hands and range riders of the ball’s early years.
“There’s quite a bit of stuff, actually more than I could fit into the show,” the Texas-born Murphey said in a recent phone interview. “There’s 150 years of Texas music in the show — edited down, of course.”
Murphey pointed out that many of today’s beloved Christmas carols and stories have American roots. “It Came upon a Midnight Clear,” for instance, was penned during the Civil War. The less-known “Twas in the Moon of Wintertime” dates back to 17th century French Catholic missionaries to the Hurons in what became Quebec.
While Murphey’s Cowboy Christmas Show sidesteps imported subjects like Santa Claus and Scrooge, he does admit an opening for one 20th-century American creation, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” written for a 1939 Montgomery Ward department store promotion.
There’s also a strong Americana flavor and sense of humor running through the Hippodrome’s second major Christmas show of the week, Keen’s Cosmic Cowboy Christmas.
As fans who attended Keen’s “Merry Christmas from the Fam-O-Lee” at the Hippodrome two years ago know, the Texas singer-songwriter’s approach to the holidays is a more free-wheeling one, a quick mix of tongue-in-cheek humor, a touch of good-natured rowdiness, goodwill and fun.
That show drew its title from Keen’s memorable — and highly singalong-able — “Merry Christmas from the Family” which references convenience stores, cigarettes, drinking parents, multiple marriages, disposable diapers, tampons, motor homes and Feliz Navidad.
It’s a prime example of the individualistic voice that flavors other Keen classics in his three-decade career, numbers such as “Dreadful Selfish Crime,” “The Road Goes on Forever,” “Corpus Christi Bay” and “That Buckin’ Song.”
Waco is the second stop for this year’s eight-city Cosmic Cowboy Christmas tour, following its kickoff Tuesday night in Oklahoma City, and will feature Austin’s Shinyribs band as the opening act. It’s approaching a sellout, with fewer than a dozen tickets remaining as of midweek.