Michael Martin Murphey’s singing rings with the sincerity and authenticity that many find lacking in pop country these days. Nowhere is that more apparent than during Murphey’s annual Cowboy Christmas tour, a series of holiday shows throughout the Southwest that feature a mix of traditional Christmas songs, a few Murphey classics, and cowboy poetry and storytelling. Murphey’s Christmas shows are unapologetically old-fashioned, much like the 73-year-old singer-songwriter himself, and have an intimate, reverent, and wholesome quality.
This year’s tour comes to Texas on Dec. 10 with a stop at the Kwahadi Museum in Amarillo, followed by stops in Beaumont (Dec. 12), Waco (Dec. 13), Tyler (Dec. 15), Tatum (Dec. 16), Fort Worth (Dec. 17), Huntsville (Dec. 20), Austin (Dec. 21), Anson (Dec. 22), and Caldwell (Dec. 23). While Murphey often incorporates favorites like “What’s Forever For” and “Wildfire,” this year’s tour could also include standouts from his new release Austinology: Alleys of Austin, a retrospective of Austin’s cosmic cowboy music scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The new album features both a sampling of Murphy classics from the era—such as “Geronimo’s Cadillac,” performed with Steve Earle—and renditions of other influential works such as Steve Fromholz’s “Texas Trilogy.”
Murphey, a working cowboy who divides his time between ranches in Amarillo and Colorado, embraces and celebrates what he calls the cowboy way of life—a life based on faith, family, hard work, and a passion for conservation and the environment. He says that this philosophy has a strong impact on his holiday show, as does his own family background.
“The material speaks of the music of the beginning of the cowboy trail-driver period in the 1870s to the music of modern-day ranching and rodeo,” Murphey says of Cowboy Christmas. “The new material and approach this year will focus on my Texas-Irish heritage. The influence of the Irish culture is huge in cowboy music and cowboy poetry.”
Murphey started his Cowboy Christmas tour after participating in Anson’s historic Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball in 1992. He recalls being surprised by the ball’s rigid rules for guests and performers—no alcohol or smoking, no skirts above the knee or hats allowed on the dance floor, and all dancing should be counter-clockwise. But he was charmed as well—and inspired to develop his own show.
The Anson ball, which was first held in 1885, remains the centerpiece of the tour each year and features a ranch supper and traditional Western songs and dances. Many attendees to the event wear period dress, as do Murphey and his Rio Grande Band.
Murphey says he attributes the popularity of Cowboy Christmas to the same influences that have enabled him to release 33 albums since 1972: God, discipline, ethics, and his commitment to understanding his audience.
“My music speaks to people because I try to put myself in the place of the listener,” he says. “I write my best songs from the heart, by inspiration. I let people fill in the blanks that I provide through imagery and storytelling.”