Michael Martin Murphey’s picturesque Christmas comes decorated by wide open blue skies, rows of snow-dusted pines, a warmly lit log cabin and a flickering campfire. Murphey’s treasured Cowboy Christmas concerts, a tradition now more than two decades strong, explores the humanity and spirituality of the season. It delves into the American heritage of Christmas organically and universally. It strips down the highly commercial holiday to its bare essentials in an effort to present a richer, more rewarding experience for the audience.
“What I try to do is encourage people to think of the spirit of giving, charity and forgiving, which is the spirit of Christmas,” Murphey, 72, says by phone from his Colorado home. “It’s not about cramming a Christmas message down people’s throats. It’s about delivering that beautiful message of Christmas for people.”
The genesis of Murphey’s Cowboy Christmas harks back to Anson, Texas in 1885. That was the date and place of the first Cowboys’ Christmas Ball, a festive celebration that found native New Yorker and newly arrived Anson resident Larry Chittenden so inspired by the dancing and merriment he witnessed that he penned a poem titled “The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball.” His six-stanza verse has been set to music and remains a traditional Western signpost of the holidays.
“The spirit of that grew throughout the world and people want that feeling again,” Murphey says about the inaugural Anson Cowboys’ Christmas Ball. “It’s simple and essential – share a meal, have a dance and enjoy the spirit of Christmas. I’m really thrilled that tradition has been really preserved and remains alive,” he said. “Every culture has its way of celebrating Christmas. Texas has its own Christmas tradition and America has its own Christmas tradition. We are the most Christmas loving country in the world.”
Preserving the beauty of the West, the true cowboy culture, and the sonic tapestry of Western music has been a lifelong mission for this Dallas native. Murphey soaked up the cowboy experience while growing up in Oak Cliff by venturing off to his grandfather’s ranches in Rockwall and Fairfield, Texas during weekends and summers.
He would bring that Western sensibility to his music starting with the cosmic cowboy movement in the early ‘70s, and then encompassing his huge 1975 pop hit “Wildfire” as well as his hit-making ‘80s period in mainstream country. He later came full circle with his acclaimed forays into cowboy music, the Cowboy Songs series in the 1990s, and the more recent bluegrass opuses such as 2009’s Buckaroo Blue Grass and 2010’s Buckaroo Blue Grass II. Murphey’s new album, High Stakes: Cowboy Songs VII, speaks directly to his love of the western way of life, largely praising and extolling its importance in our world.
“It may sound like an oxymoron, but ‘Cowboy Culture’ is real and relevant,” Murphey says. “I celebrate men and women who love Dirt, Grass and Water. Truth is, cowboys and cowgirls can save the planet.”
It is that theme that is central to his popular Cowboy Christmas show. “It’s not lost on me that the angels first announced the birth of Christ to the Shepherds, who were the cowboys of their day,” Murphey laughs. “I’ve always considered that very significant. Few people are dedicated to preserving the heritage and beauty of the American West quite like cowboy singer-songwriter Michael Martin Murphey,” wrote Cowboys & Indians Magazine. “Through his music he tells the stories and romance of the Native Americans, cowboys, horsemen, ranchers, outlaws, and lawmen. But Murphey has gone beyond storytelling through active involvement in the conservation of the relics and landscape that define his most treasured region.”
Throughout his career, Murphey has stubbornly guarded and nurtured his artistic freedom. This is a man who’s effortlessly crossed genres, from pop to country, folk to bluegrass, Western to adult contemporary.
“I have always insisted on my artistic freedom and it’s gotten me into a lot of trouble with the record companies,” he says. “With freedom comes the responsibility to yourself and your art. If you’ve got artistic freedom you need to take seriously not taking yourself too seriously. I’ve always had a wide open attitude toward art.”
His expansive attitude covers the panoramic Western terrain like Picasso, Monet and Dali embraced canvas and easel. Like all artists with the power of expression, Murphey has transformed the personal into the universal. He brings the noble purity of the West to the most commercialized holiday.
— By Mario Tarradell
Ticket info: Limited VIP/pre-show Meet & Greet (arrive early at 6:15) reserved seat tickets located on the first two rows $60; floor rows 3-6 are $40; rows 7-12 are $35; balcony seating $30 and limited balcony box seats $70 (box tickets included concessions)