Keen’s off-color Christ­mas pro­gram

Mu­si­cian brings his unique take on the hol­i­days to ACL Live.

Austin American-Statesman - - D LIFE & ARTS -

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.

Peter Mongillo

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