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Authentic cowboy Christmas comes to Spencer Theater
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cowboy Christmas comes to Spencer Theater
BY PAMELA CROMWELL VAMONOS
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
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
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
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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