If you think it’s too early to start thinking about Christmas, I would agree. The sight of Christmas debris I spotted lining shelves at the local discount store this weekend, pushing Halloween and autumn decor aside, made me inwardly groan. Visions of Kenan Thompson’s now infamous Saturday Night Live skit, in which he declares it’s “too soon” for Yuletide decorations, echoed in my head.
But there is one holiday tradition to plan for that’s never too soon. It’s Americana icon Robert Earl Keen’s annual holiday show and some tickets for this coveted event, “Back to the Country Jamboree,” go on sale Monday, Sept. 18.
Hopefully you caught Keen taking part in last week’s landmark “Hand In Hand: A Benefit for Hurricane Relief” star-studded show, which raised more than $44 million. A native of Houston and a frequent visitor to the Florida Keys, Keen’s heart is with folks in both places. Keen was hand-picked by another Texas native, George Strait, to perform at the iconic Majestic Theatre in San Antonio alongside his longtime friend Lyle Lovett with Miranda Lambert and Chris Stapleton.
“It was show biz at its best,” Keen explained in a phone interview from Fort Worth, where he was scheduled to play Billy Bob’s on Saturday night. “When it’s great, it’s great beyond all imagining. Everyone was so cool and the music was so great. I don’t believe I can top the magic of the night. It was unbelievable.”
Keen is no stranger to making musical magic with a little help from his friends and longtime bandmates.
I had the pleasure of taking in last year’s “Merry Christmas From the Fam-O-Lee” show for the first time that featured the theme, “Country Gold Jamboree.” In addition to fan favorites, including the show’s title track as well as some of Keen’s classic hits “The Road Goes On Forever,” “Corpus Christi Bay” and “Gringo Honeymoon,” those in attendance at Nashville’s historic Ryman Theatre show were treated to his rendition of “Maria,” a song Keen penned made famous by Strait, as well as many others old and new.
The highlight of the show was arguably when each member of Keen’s all-star band dressed up as an iconic country singer and played a little something by that artist including Hank Williams, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.
For the 2017 Christmas tour, Keen is shaking things up with a new theme, set and costumes. He’s also expanded the tour to include twice as many shows (more than two dozen) as last year with it stretching up and down the East Coast and across the South, including two North Carolina dates in Durham and Charlotte.
Keen told me he has decided to expand his wildly popular holiday show after sticking closer to home in past.
“Other than the Ryman and some other Oklahoma dates, I’ve been stuck in Texas,” he explained. “I didn’t want to totally repeat so we’ve adjusted the set. The band members are going to be Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Dwight Yoakam. It will be country but we’ll explore the country rock side of things and we might mashup a couple of tunes. I am going to do a couple of characters. In my role, I like being the MC and talking about what they are doing. And there will definitely be some hijinks.”
The “Merry Christmas From the Fam-O-Lee” show is now a holiday tradition for me and my family after last year’s experience, and if it isn’t a tradition for you and yours yet, it will be after you experience this show.
For the uninitiated, it’s part comedy/variety show (think “The Carol Burnett Show” of old) and part musical cornucopia that’s full of pleasant surprises. It’s akin to Christmas morning, but one where Keen and his merry band of musicians continue to unwrap gifts you didn’t even know you were hoping for until they share them on stage.
Just don’t wait until Christmas morning to unwrap this particular gift, or you may find that Santa passed you up. Check the following tour schedule to see if Keen and company are coming to a city near you in November or December. Visit www.robertearlkeen.com for tickets and more information. Happy Holidays!
CHRISTMAS TOUR SCHEDULE
11/27/2017 Tivoli Theatre — Chattanooga, TN
11/28/2017 The Peace Center — Greenville, SC
11/30/2017 The Cox Capitol Theatre — Macon, GA
12/01/2017 Knight Theater — Charlotte, NC
12/02/2017 North Charleston Performing Arts — North Charleston, SC
12/03/2017 Carolina Theatre — Durham, NC
12/04/2017 The Paramount Theatre — Charlottesville, VA
12/06/2017 Town Hall — New York, NY
12/07/2017 Lincoln Theatre — Washington, DC
12/08/2017 Tennessee Theatre — Knoxville, TN
12/09/2017 Variety Playhouse — Atlanta, GA
12/10/2017 The Lyric Theatre — Birmingham, AL
12/12/2017 The Jones Assembly — Oklahoma City, OK
12/13/2017 Walton Arts Center — Fayetteville, AR
12/16/2017 Moody Theater — Austin, TX
12/26/2017 House of Blues — Houston, TX
12/28/2017 Ryman Auditorium — Nashville, TN
12/29/2017 House of Blues — Dallas, TX
12/30/2017 Bass Performance Hall — Fort Worth, TX