Austin’s countercultural country scene was still embryonic when Michael Martin Murphey moved back to Texas in 1971. In retrospect, the songwriter’s settlement – and the fellow artists it attracted – was a crucial catalyst for the ensuing progressive country movement.
“A lot of us were professional songwriters in other places, but we didn’t like the kind of music we were expected to turn in, so we went back there and began bouncing these new songs off each other that didn’t fit the mold of what was popular at the time – something representing the gritty side of America,” he reveals. “We were literally starving artists trying to develop an American voice that was strongly Texan.”
Murphey’s career has balanced tradition and originality, exploring everything from Old West cowboy tunes to bluegrass. It was this impulse toward history that created his Cowboy Christmas show, now celebrating its 25th anniversary.
“In 1991 I put out a Christmas album called Cowboy Christmas, and I had no idea that the original Cowboy Christmas Ball was being kept alive by a committee in Anson,” he says. “They called me up and invited me to play it. They made me aware of all these old-time dances and the music that went with it, and as I began to research it, it opened up a whole new world to me.”
The show, which features 19th century dances, tells the history of the Cowboy Christmas Ball in the tiny town near Abilene. It’s presented in a larger context of Texas music, which includes Murphey’s cosmic country originals.
“Really the show is about the progression of the music and preservation of the tradition,” he offers. “I’ve always loved history and now I am history.”
Fri., Dec. 21, 8pm