Written and Photographed by Stacey Lovett
The spirit of Christmas took over ACL live as Robert Earl Keen returned with his annual holiday show, this year being the year of the Cosmic Cowboy. The night paid homage to various songwriters and musical influences and in the light of the solstice full moon summoned the essence of the art of the written word, bringing an Austin-style party truly out of this world.
The audience of this sold out show started the night with a special performance from The Stryker Brothers – Keen’s long-mysterious side project with Randy Rogers. It’s been a fictional narrative of a musical duo, whose identities were only recently revealed as being the pair. The project began as a means for two recognized artists to collaborate and create music for the sake of the song, to celebrate and share the essence of Americana poetry without any preconceptions tied to their celebrity. As their songs gained popularity and the intrigue of their true identities grew, they revealed it to the world only last month and this particular show was their debut live performance as their true names behind the fictional personas. They still performed in character, and although no longer anonymous, their signature talents shine through as their abilities to convey a narrative like this weave elements both geographically and musically ‘Texan.’ As they only performed a four song set, they took us all over the Lone Star State from Fort Worth to Balmorhea all while tipping their hats to Guy Clark and Charlie Duke – the astronaut who took country music to space. With this live sampling of the esoterica that has burned into the landscape of Texas and its troubadours, The Stryker Brothers truly celebrate that familial influence that has set the legendary roots of this great state’s music.
Kevin Russell brought a stellar performance as Shinyribs, dishing out his self-proclaimed “country soul swamp-funk & tickle” served with a twist of Christmas performing tunes off of his recent holiday album, The Kringle Tingle. His charisma projects his East Texas/Louisiana upbringing with his sound and celebration and the energy that the Shiny Soul Sisters and Tijuana Trainwreck Horns add create a synergy of soul hosting a high energy party for the entirety of the set. If his performance can’t tap into a deep spirit of music in your core then there may just be no hope for you. Russell lays down tongue in cheek lyrics as he generously adds that swamp spice of the soul and flow of showmanship and flavor in the sound, all the while peppering in some lyrical lechery to kick up the heat. Shinyribs weaves a great deal of influence into his music and fits the bill with not only his lighthearted lyrical narratives but his delivery most definitely adds an element of party – its real music paired with real fun!
The encore may have said it all about Robert Earl Keen when he lit up as the audience delivered a sing along to “Merry Christmas from the Family” with genuine heartfelt fun. Just as the giving and receiving sentiment of the season, Keen shares the same feeling with his fans. He brings the party to his shows, brings a joy of both nostalgia and a universal connectedness and understanding of his tales, and the fans give that back. He has always held the talent of crafting an image with his lyrics – a narrative of Texas and Texans alike, of real life and realistic fiction, describing life in somewhat of a cinematic manner and always magical and real. His own style was fitting for this year’s theme – Cosmic Cowboys – as his poetry has and is influenced much of this era. Also fitting is the recent resurrection of the story of this movement with Michael Martin Murphy’s Austinology featuring the remake of this namesake song, but also quite possible the loss and redirection of many Austin institutions of that era – landmarks gone but not forgotten and the land hopefully not ridden of the zeitgeist that should endure. It’s all nevertheless an homage rooted in respect and reverence of songwriting, of staying true to the art and to the culture. The show itself that night staged the band among elements from his infamous Christmas tune from giant cigarette packets to a box of tampons as the lyrical kitsch mixed with equally flashy interstellar stage scenes. Each band member had local ties to the area, further conjuring the thematic musical elements celebrated and added to the review dressing up as an honorary Cosmic Cowboy to perform one of their hits during the show. Keen turned out all of his best known hits, spinning tales from his own life in between, exclaiming the best thing about music being that it travels and that night he broke the barrier of time and space unlocking the hosts – fictional and non – of Christmas and songwriting past and present while continuing this promotional legacy for the future of the craft – all so that the party may never end.
ROBERT EARL KEEN PHOTO GALLERY
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SHINYRIBS PHOTO GALLERY
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