A Keen Country Christmas at Tulsa’s Cain’s Ballroom
Texan Robert Earl Keen will put you in the holiday spirit with his “Merry Christmas from the Fam-o-Lee” Dec. 20 at Tulsa’s Cain’s Ballroom. The evening features musical comedy guests Doyle & Debbie and the Xmas-Men.
Keen, with his clever, literate brand of Texas alt-country, is a Tulsa favorite and a Cain’s regular. He’s a fan of the Ballroom, too. “I just always felt comfortable from the first time I every played there,” he said. “You know it’s part of the history, but also like the Ryman in Nashville, it has this great music vibe, all the people that have played there, but I also just like the way the place is set up.”
Although an REK show is always a guaranteed good time, the holiday show is special. “What we’re doing is providing a place and a time for people to get together and acknowledge that Christmas is upon us. I’ve always been a person who was in total denial about Christmas, so part of even writing a Christmas song had that thought behind it,” he explained.
The set and the theme of the show change annually. “This year is ‘country Christmas’, so we’re celebrating some different country legends,” he said. “We also have a band called the Xmas-men who play Christmas instrumentals in a swing fashion, which should appeal to the people around Tulsa because a lot of people know about swing music and its history in Tulsa.”
Keen and fellow Texas musician Lyle Lovett are buddies with a friendship that dates back to their college days at Texas A&M. “Lyle and I are both truly fascinated with words and in different sorts of ways,” Keen commented. “I’m a little bit more academic than he is, but he’s more sparkly and jazzy than I am. I really admire what he does. The bottom line is that both of us are really interested in how words fit together. I think that if you wrote down a list of what are the main components of a song, we would put words at the top whereas a lot of people would say the beat or they would say the melody.”
Keen’s roots are in bluegrass and his most recent release, 2015’s “Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions,” celebrates his first musical love. The album is a collection of 28 bluegrass covers, featuring Keen’s own band, along with contributions from talented guests like Keen’s buddy Lyle Lovett, Danny Barnes, Sara Watkins and Natalie Maines.
“The bluegrass record was a labor of love,” Keen noted. “It’s been one of those projects where everything fell together in a wonderful fashion, and it makes you feel like you did the right thing at the right time.”
For Keen, recording the album with this crew of musicians was a real pleasure. “It was really fun. I love bluegrass music because it’s a really communal form of music. You really get in there close and sing with people. It’s just really right there in your face kind of stuff. I just love the sound of it and the feel of it. When you get people together, and they feel the same way as you do about it, it’s like putting a bunch of chickens in a pen and giving them all some chicken feed, and they all jump around being happy about it,” Keen laughed.
That bluegrass influence has been a constant throughout Keen’s life. “I learned how to play behind contest fiddle players, so it just really got into my whole soul and the way I think and the way I write. By and large, all of my stuff has that sort of influence in it, certainly. If you wanted to track or trace it, it’s not pop, and it’s not real, real country. As much as I love real country, I’ve never played real country. What I did play was bluegrass and some folk, so it’d be closer to those two things.” For more information on Keen’s music and his upcoming Christmas show at the Cain’s Ballroom, click here.
– With permission from Red Dirt Nation.