DFW Music News

Why Robert Earl Keen Doesn't Mind Being the Jimmy Buffet of Christmas

Robert Earl Keen's Christmas variety show features an inflatable Santa Claus and wrapped present decorations.
Robert Earl Keen's Christmas variety show features an inflatable Santa Claus and wrapped present decorations. courtesy the artist
Robert Earl Keen plays the House of Blues on Friday, Dec. 29 and Bass Performance Hall on Saturday, Dec. 30. 
This time of year, most musicians pause their tours to head home and spend time with friends and family. Not Robert Earl Keen.

The country and folk singer-songwriter is busying touring his Christmas show, “REK’s Fam-O-Lee Back to the Country Jamboree!," to Houston, Nashville, Dallas and Fort Worth. It's meant as a lighthearted take on the Christmas variety shows of yesteryear. Wrapped presents and a large inflatable Santa Claus decorate the stage.

Keen says he doesn't mind being associated with Christmas and working harder during the season.

“We've become the Jimmy Buffet of December,” he says. “It’s a rigorous effort, but it’s worth it."

Keen grew up in Houston and made a name for himself in the Austin music scene in the '80s, alongside Steve Earle, Nanci Griffith and Joe Ely.

“I was always looking for the next gig,” Keen says. “There was a famous rodeo cowboy, Jim Shoulders, who said the key to his success was he always rode for the ‘the day money.’ Basically, that means you take life a day at a time.”

“We've become the Jimmy Buffet of December. It’s a rigorous effort, but it’s worth it." – Robert Earl Keen

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Today he's released a dozen studio albums and a few live albums, both independently and through major labels. Keen sought to express himself rather than follow trends in country music.

“I'm the original outlier,” he says. “The view is better.”

As he’s toured the state and the country, Keen has come to appreciate what makes Texas special.

"Texas has many different landscapes with ever-changing topography,” Keen says. “From the coastal plains to the high plains in Lubbock and Amarillo, from the Piney Woods in East Texas to the Guadalupe Mountains in West Texas, Texas is ever-evolving. Songwriting should be the same, ever-changing with different views and descriptions of life as it happens."

He's also identified some common traits that unite Texans, whether they're from Dallas, Houston or Austin.

“The Texas ‘sensibility’ is basically comprised of hard work, being courageous and not afraid to take a chance,” Keen says. “In my songwriting, I try to emulate those same characteristics.”

Keen's plans for next year include taking the stage in February with Lyle Lovett at George Strait’s “Strait to Vegas” concert series in Las Vegas.

“I've had a very full life,” Keen says. “I've experienced things most folks only dream about. I only wish I had it all to do over again.”

Robert Earl Keen, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 29, House of Blues, 2200 N. Lamar St., 214-978-2583 or houseofblues.com/dallas, $45-$70.

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Eric Grubbs is a Dallas-based writer who has published two books, Post: A Look at the Influence of Post-Hardcore 1985-2007 and When We Were the Kids. His writing has been featured in Punk Planet, Popdose, Fort Worth Weekly, The Dentonite and LA Weekly. He supports Manchester City and will never root for Manchester United.
Contact: Eric Grubbs