When Michael Martin Murphey walked out on the stage of Rudder Auditorium on the campus of Texas A&M University last night, the crowd gave him a warm Aggie welcome, including a few whoops. As the show progressed, with each performance the audience’s enthusiasm increased until even before intermission most were clapping along with the music and responding with thunderous applause. If there had been room in the aisles, some might even have danced a jig along with Murphey. At the end of the evening, they refused to let Murphey go until he played an encore.
The dark stage started out with a camp setting, complete with campfire (burning a high-tech blaze only, of course). Murphey emerged in traditional mountain attire, sporting a fringed leather jacket and chaps, with lantern in hand. The show moved seamlessly from songs to cowboy poetry to instrumental numbers and more. Throughout the concert, Murphey connected directly and personally with the audience. He included stories noting personal and historical ties to Texas A&M University.
Murphey shows his talent and passion for his craft in all his shows, and last night’s Cowboy Christmas Concert was no exception. It featured just the right mix of serious message, light-hearted fun, interesting historical tidbits, personal story, and excellent musical performances. Part of last night’s show focused on the Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball that has been held in Anson, Texas, since the late 1800s. Murphey has played at the Christmas Ball every year since 1991, and the ball inspired creation of his Cowboy Christmas concerts now in their 20th year.
One of the aspects that makes Murphey’s Cowboy Christmas powerful is that he avoids filling it with overused modern carols. Instead he weaves farms and families, love and land, history and hope, music and melody, God and good with new songs and stories into a rich Christmas tapestry wrapped up and tied up with a sparkling ribbon of a mountain stream.
Murphey is a native Texan whose career spans musical genres from folk to rock. He most recently concentrates on historical western music and lore, helping keep alive the history of the west. He is a member of the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame and has been recognized numerous times by top music organizations such as the Texas Music Awards, National Cowboy Hall of Fame, Academy of Country Music, Grammy Awards, and Country Music Association.
Pauline Reese, named 2012 Female Vocalist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year by the Texas Music Association, opened the show for Murphey. After warming up on “Home to You,” Reese let her powerful voice ring out on “O Holy Night.” She remained on stage to play and harmonize with Murphey and the Rio Grande Band throughout the evening. The band members are all exceptional musicians and award winners in their own rights.
When Murphey stepped out onto the apron of the stage to deliver an acappella song-chant with only a hand-held drum to keep him company, the audience of thousands quieted to stillness so they could catch every intonation. In that number and whenever Murphey let his voice soar, it was as clear, true, and moving as it was decades ago on the stage of Armadillo World Headquarters.
MSC OPAS deserves credit for bringing this talented performer and his band back to Texas A&M. You can catch Michael Martin Murphey’s Cowboy Christmas tour across Texas for the remainder of December.