Plaid pants, bell-bottoms, and hippie headbands provide a flashback to a 70s Christmas with Robert Earl Keen. Photo by Don Mathis.
Plaid pants, bell-bottoms, and hippie headbands provide a flashback to a 70s Christmas with Robert Earl Keen. Photo by Don Mathis.

Robert Earl Keen gave a swift boot in the pants Tuesday night to inspire those still lacking the holiday spirit with his show, “Merry Christmas from the Fam-O-Lee!”

The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts inspires musicians to do their best. Paul McCartney said the surroundings made him want to recite Shakespeare – which he promptly did.

Robert Earl Keen was so impressed by the new center he rearranged the lyrics to one of his songs so that the cowboy was dipping Copenhagen at the Tobin.

“She didn’t know that I was spitting’ in my Coca-Cola cup; she took a great big swallow and threw her popcorn up,” he sang.

San Antonio has many aspects of Christmas that are not found outside of South Texas (see last year’s article, Merry Tex-Mas, San Antonio ). And the Robert Earl Keen (REK) Christmas show is one of them.

Old-time fans will remember Robert Earl Keen’s seasonal show at the John T. Floore Country Store in Helotes. Soon after the new century started, REK took his Christmas concert to the Majestic Theatre. The Tobin takes the spirit to the next level.

REK’s band has become so popular they recently released their own CD, Santa is Real. The Xmas Men – comprised of Rich Brotherton, lead guitar; Bill Whitbeck, bass; Tom Van Schaik, drums; and Marty Muse, steel guitar – opened the show with a collection of Christmas instrumentals. “Sleigh Ride,” with the sound of horses’ clippity-clop, wrapped the audience in the holiday spirit.

Bruce Robison from Bandera took the stage next. His songs have been covered by everyone from the Dixie Chicks (“Travelin’ Soldier”) to George Strait (“Wrapped”). Bruce’s standard, “What Would Willie Do,” cracked the crowd up. His song about “My Brother And Me” was home-spun from the hill country.

Robert Earl Keen’s songs range from slapstick humor to deep introspection. He is a storyteller and philosopher. And he is glad to give credit to musicians who inspire him.  He spoke highly of Lyle Lovett before launching into “The Front Porch Song.”

“He’s one of my real friends,” he said. “Not just a musician friend.”

REK called Bruce Robison one of the best song-writers in Texas. And REK made sure his bass player had a chance to shine with a song from his hometown, “There is Only One S in New Braunfels.” Bill Whitbeck captured the ‘oom pah pah’ of a Wurstfest night.

REK has released more than a dozen albums since “No Kinda Dancer” in 1984 and he played hits from most of them during his three-hour concert. He waited until his first encore to perform “The Road Goes on Forever,” and judging from the audience response, you would think, “the Party Never Ends.”

He came back with the Xmas Men for a second encore to close the show with the light-hearted yet profound song, “Merry Christmas from the Family.” If that doesn’t get you in the holiday spirit, you may have to try the recipe for REK’s Bloody Mary.

*Featured/top image: Plaid pants, bell-bottoms, and hippie headbands provide a flashback to a 70s Christmas with Robert Earl Keen. Photo by Don Mathis.

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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,...