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Christmas lights home > Christmas lights in the news > Authentic cowboy Christmas comes to Spencer Theater

Authentic cowboy Christmas comes to Spencer Theater

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Authentic cowboy Christmas comes to Spencer Theater

In the '70s he ran calling "Wildfire," but since then Michael Martin Murphey has been inducted into the Western Music Hall of Fame and is considered a guardian of America's Western traditions. On Nov. 30, he brings his trademark event "A Michael Martin Murphey Cowboy Christmas" to the Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts in Alto (8 p.m. showtime; tickets are still available at $49 and $46).Murphey's hit single "Cowboys' Christmas Ball" was originally a poem written by Larry Chittenden in ode to the first Texas Cowboys' Christmas Ball, which was held in 1885 at the Star Hotel in Anson, Texas. The poem first appeared in print in 1890, then was included in Chittenden's 1893 book, Ranch Verses, a collection of poetry about ranch life. The poem eventually became a song, and was included in John Lomax's 1922 book, Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads. The Texas Cowboys' Christmas Ball was a little-known event outside of West Texas, until Murphey discovered and recorded Chittenden's classic song in 1985.

Fifty years prior to Murphey's recording, the annual event nearly met its demise when dancing became rather frowned upon by the straight-laced citizens of Anson. But the tradition was saved by Miss Leonora Barrett, an Anson schoolteacher who recognized the event as a gem of American folk heritage.

In 1934, with the help of support raised by Barrett, Anson's "Texas Cowboys' Christmas Ball" was presented with traditional 1880's dances and music, as an alcohol-free, no-smoking, family-friendly event. In 1936, a group of Anson dancers presented the tradition in Dallas; in 1937, they were invited to the National Folk Festival in Chicago; and in 1938, they danced on the White House lawn. The Cowboys' Ball continues to this day in Anson, with Michael Martin Murphey as the featured entertainer.

The Anson event inspired Murphey to create a show that included his original cowboy songs and poetry, material drawn from classic and contemporary cowboy songwriters and poets, traditional American Christmas songs, and traditional frontier dance tunes. The atmosphere of the stage production surrounds the band with a spectacular set, special effects and lighting created by Colorado stage designers.

Murphey was at first criticized for making his groundbreaking Cowboy Songs album, which included both Old West classic and contemporary cowboy songs. But that album became the first gold album of cowboy music since Marty Robbins, and Murphey's Cowboy Christmas: Cowboy Songs Volume II was described as the "best cowboy album ever made" by Cowboy Magazine.

Cowboy Songs literally revived a genre of American music that was nearly lost, putting the "Western" back into "Country and Western."

Murphey has received many awards for his accomplishments in the Western and cowboy music field, including five awards from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. But his close association with the American West's environmental issues brought him his most treasured award, the Department of the Interior's Golden Smokey Award, an honor he shares with Walt Disney and President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Though he couldn't have predicted it at the time, his song "Wildfire" has come to symbolize Murphey's career and life-choices on many levels, from his role as a spokesperson for prudent management of wildlands fire to his passion for keeping Western traditions alive and relevant.

Lyrically, Murphey sees "Wildfire" as his finest moment as a songwriter, penned out of sheer inspiration, without any thought to formula. He wrote it years before he recorded it, just after he had left L.A. for the California mountains, never again to return to city living.

"There have been legends about ghost horses, especially in the Western folk tradition," says Murphey. "I had heard these all my life, but one night in Los Angeles I woke from a dream with the name Wildfire and these images in my head. The song came from that. A girl and her pony were both lost one winter, but they reappear occasionally to help westerners. It's all about the dream of freedom and escape." At least in imagination, Murphey had returned to the heart of the American West -- prophetic of what was yet to come in his life.

Visit www.michaelmartinmurphey.com to learn more about this Western artist. For tickets to the Nov. 30 concert at Spencer Theater, call 336-4800 or go to www.spencertheater.com online.



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