Keen’s off-color Christmas program
Musician brings his unique take on the holidays to ACL Live.
When Robert Earl Keen brings his “Merry Christmas From the FamO-Lee” show to ACL Live in a couple of weeks, he’ll have some Christmas trees in tow, and Santa. Also, giant packs of cigarettes (Marlboro Lights and Salem Lights) and tampon boxes. “To at least appear to be festive beyond just having a red guitar on stage,” Keen said over the phone last week.
Keen’s definition of festive comes from his song, “Merry Christmas From the Family,” which appears on his 1994 album “Gringo Honeymoon.” The song, which is among his most well known (and for many who aren’t familiar with his music, maybe his most well known), was born around Thanksgiving in the early ’90s, when Keen needed to finish an album.
“It was around Christmastime, and I was thinking that I had plenty time to get these ideas out and run these songs by different people and all these things you do with a record, and I realized, the whole music business shuts down until Feb. 1,” Keen said. “And I thought, ‘Oh no, what am I going to do here?’ I was sitting here, just banging on a guitar, thinking Christmas, OK, I can handle this.”
While the song references other well-known Christmas fare, including “Feliz Navidad” and “The First Noel,” its tone and lyrics — a description of an off-color family Christmas party — make it more of a song about Christmas than a Christmas song. Keen said he wanted it that way; he even asked the band to play it slow to capture a day-after-the-party feel.