*Top Image: REK's song, "Merry Christmas from the Family," captures the fun of a dysfunctional family with images of blown Christmas lights, excessive drinking, and multiple trips to the convenience store. Photo courtesy of the Tobin Center.
*Top Image: REK's song, "Merry Christmas from the Family," captures the fun of a dysfunctional family with images of blown Christmas lights, excessive drinking, and multiple trips to the convenience store. Photo courtesy of the Tobin Center.

It’s almost Christmastime in San Antonio, and that means it’s time for the Robert Earl Keen concert, “Merry Christmas from the Fam-O-Lee.” Fans can see Keen and his entourage return to the H-E-B Performance Hall at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday, Dec. 15.

The concert will feature REK classics and an opening act from the Doyle and Debbie Show, a tribute and a parody of the country music tradition.

If you’re having trouble getting in the “Fam-O-Lee” holiday spirit, you might try the REK Yardbird Bloody Mary Mix. If that spirit fails to get you in the Christmas mood, you might do what Keen does.

“I like to get out under a big live oak tree,” Keen said in a recent interview. “See if a deer might come out.”

Keen is about as Texas as you can get. A Houston native and current Hill Country resident, he is often considered one of the best songwriters in Texas.

“I started playing when I went to Texas A&M,” Keen said of his musical beginnings. He met fellow Front Porch Band member Lyle Lovett during his time at A&M. Lovett and Keen have since experienced independent success as musicians and songwriters, and both are in the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame.

During his Christmas show last year, (Read: A Robert Earl Keen Christmas at the Tobin), Keen spoke highly of Lovett before launching into “The Front Porch Song.”

“Lyle Lovett helped my career; he’s a great friend,” Keen said.

People  are keen on Keen the world over; his songs resonate with the heart and mind.

“I’ve done everything from cow pens to the Kennedy Center,” he said. “Outside of Texas, I have a lot of fans in Colorado and the southeast United States.”

Last year, Keen decked out his set at the Tobin with 1970’s Christmas theme decorations. Musicians were dressed in mod gear, while an image of President Richard Nixon appeared on an over-sized TV.

“This year, we’ll be celebrating a country Christmas by paying homage to iconic country legends,” Keen said of the upcoming performance.

The Doyle and Debbie Show members Bruce Arntson and Jenny Littleton, will keep with that theme, as they lampoon classic duos of the Country and Western culture. They convey the vocals of vintage Nashville stars – and their banter – with the acting ability of vaudeville veterans.

One of the things that makes any star great is his penchant for helping up-and-coming performers. Keen did this last year by crediting his opening act, Bruce Robison from Bandera, as one of the best songwriters in Texas. Keen also made sure the audience knew his backup band (Rich Brotherton, lead guitar; Bill Whitbeck, bass; Tom Van Schaik, drums; and Marty Muse, steel guitar), had released their own album as “The Xmas Men.”

Keen reluctantly gave credit to the performers who have helped him on his rise to stardom.

“I’ve got to mention Randy Rogers and Cody Canada, Keen said. “And George Strait has done a couple of my songs.”

Keen appeals to many musicians and fans through his wide range of musical topics, which include everything from slapstick humor to introspective philosophy.

Robert Earl Keen is famous for “The Road Goes On Forever,” one of his many hit songs. Photo by Don Mathis.
Robert Earl Keen is famous for “The Road Goes On Forever,” one of his many hit songs. Photo by Don Mathis.

“You’ve got to have the ability to put these two together,” Keen said. “George Carlin was like that. You could stand him up against Kierkegaard.”

His new album, “Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions,” returns to Keen’s roots, and serves as a tribute to his musical influences which include: Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Jerry Jeff Walker.

“I didn’t write any of the songs,” Keen said, “But I love the way the music flows, it’s a really great record.”

Catch REK and friends in concert at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 15 at the Tobin Center. Ticket prices start at $27.50, and can be purchased here on the Tobin website.

*Top Image: REK’s song, “Merry Christmas from the Family,” captures the fun of a dysfunctional family with images of blown Christmas lights, excessive drinking, and multiple trips to the convenience store. Photo courtesy of the Tobin Center. 

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Don Mathis

Don’s life revolves around the many poetry circles in San Antonio. His poems have been published in many anthologies and periodicals and broadcasted on local TV and national radio. In addition to poetry,...