A version of this story appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.
Michael Martin Murphey brings Cowboy Christmas Ball back to Oklahoma City
The Grammy-nominated musician is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his popular Cowboy Christmas Tour, which is winding up a run of 25 shows in 30 days. It is his 19th year to bring the western tradition to the Oklahoma City museum.
Michael Martin Murphey is celebrating 20 years of maintaining a yuletide cowboy tradition.
The Grammy-nominated musician is marking the 20th anniversary of his popular Cowboy Christmas Tour, which is winding up a run of 25 shows in 30 days.
“It changes every year, and we add other venues. Yet at the same time, it’s a family reunion for the places that we go back to year after year, like the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum,” Murphey said in a phone interview last week from the road in Texas. “It’s inspiring just to see a tradition carried on.”
His Cowboy Christmas Ball will mark its 19th year in Oklahoma City Friday night at the museum, which Murphey said is an important venue on the tour. It also is the penultimate stop, with the tour closing Saturday in Anson, Texas, the original home of the Cowboy Christmas Ball.
“As a Texan, I always criticize the state of Texas heavily … for not thinking of having the Cowboy Hall of Fame. Oklahoma beat us to it,” he said with a laugh as he used the museum’s former name. “It’s important to the museum because that’s what they’re there for is to carry on the heritage of the cowboy.”
The singer-songwriter modeled his Cowboy Christmas Ball on a more than century-old tradition started in Anson, Texas. In 1885, an Anson couple got married at Christmastime and invited all the ranching families. Famed East Coast journalist Larry Chittenden was in town and wrote a poem about the event.
The poem was published in the London Times, The New York Times and many other newspapers, and the ball became a yearly tradition. People began coming from thousands of miles away to take part in the Cowboy Christmas Ball.
“People don’t know the heritage of frontier dances and original frontier culture. But we work up the music – we’re inspired by it – and we work up the old-time dances, as well as present our contemporary stuff. At the one in Oklahoma City now, we see a lot of people come in historical reenactment clothing. So we see ball dresses that look like ‘Gone with Wind,’ Scarlett O’Hara. And we see guys dressed up in 19th century Victorian Western clothes … but you don’t have to dress that way to come.”
Attendees delight in performing old-fashioned dances like the waltz, Schottische and Cotton Eye Joe, Murphey said.
“It’s a ball that works for 2-year-olds and 100-year-olds. Last year, a 99-year-old woman came to the one in Anson, and we’ve had lots of people in their 80s and 90s come to the one in Oklahoma City,” he said. “And then we have lots of children. We have special dances dedicated to children, and it’s really fun to see them out there.”
While the core of the event stays the same from year to year, the cowboy custom-keeper annually adds new elements. This year, he is showcasing material from his eclectic new album “Red River Drifter.”
“It encompasses a lot of different songwriting styles. Probably the only style it doesn’t really address is rock, and it’s not very bluesy either. But as far as country songwriting goes – bluegrass songwriting, cowboy songwriting – it is an amalgam of those things,” he said.
The father of six said his favorite part about the Cowboy Christmas Ball is watching families come together for the event. His wife Karen and daughters Sarah and Morgan plan to attend the Oklahoma City ball.
“Families show up en masse. We have sometimes have families of 20 or 30 people that come: cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents, siblings, mom and dad. It’s really inspiring to see that.”
Michael Martin Murphey’s Cowboy Christmas Ball
When: 7 p.m. Friday.
Where: National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, 1700 NE 63.
Information: www.nationalcowboymuseum.org or 478-2250.