Michael Martin Murphey's Cowboy Christmas Ball returning to Amarillo
By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
Amarillo's the perfect location to celebrate a cowboy Christmas, according to the No. 1 advocate of Western heritage.
Singer Michael Martin Murphey, who has devoted his life and career to promoting the spirit of the Old West, will bring his Cowboy Christmas Ball back to town for a 7 p.m. Dec. 1 performance at the Kwahadi Museum of the American Indian, 9151 E. Interstate 40.
Tickets are $45 in advance or $50 for front seating, or $35 in advance or $40 for general seating. Call 806-335-3175 for reservations; tickets are selling quickly, said Charles Ritchie, the Kwahadi museum's director.
Cowboy Gelato Smokehouse will provide dinner at 6 p.m. Tickets are an additional $30.
The Christmas ball is a tradition dating back to 1885, when it was launched on Christmas night in Anson. The South Texas community revived the tradition in 1934 and has held it annually since then.
Murphey started his traveling version of the traditional ball in 1993, touring the Southwest and reminding ball-goers that the history of Texas music originated with the state’s first cowboys.
Prior to 1992, though, Murphey was unaware of Anson's ball.
Flashback to the mid-1980s, when Murphey — already a fixture in Texas since his days with the outlaw country guys in the early 1970s and a national figure with hits like "Wildfire" — was celebrating a new contract with Warner Bros. Records. His mother gave him a book that included the music and lyrics to "Cowboy Christmas Ball," which Murphey thought would make a good single .
"That was my first release of an outright, traditional cowboy song to the public, and it got a lot of airplay," Murphey said.
He followed that up with Cowboy Songs in 1990, a passion project years in the making, and then Cowboy Christmas: Cowboy Songs II in 1991, which caught the attention of folks in Anson.
"They told me that the original ball was still going on ... (and) I was floored. I had no idea," Murphey said. "That was a 'high on the mountaintop'-type experience. I realize then I was dealing with an ancient American tradition, a real icon of our culture."
He began touring his own version of the ball in 1993 and, for at least the past decade, has brought it to Amarillo's Kwahadi museum.
"It's perfect for the Kwahadi," said Murphey, who still lives part-time near Bushland. "It's all about the great American west, and that museum is one of Amarillo's best kept secrets."
The Dec. 1 performance will be a barely scaled-back version of Murphey's full-scale ball and will include video projections and dancing to traditional two-steps, waltzes and schottisches.
Though Murphey enjoys the chance to look back on Texas history with the Christmas ball, he still looks to the future, as demonstrated on his latest album, High Stakes: Cowboy Songs VII, released in April.
As the title suggests, Murphey deals with his growing concern over climate change and how he believes reviving the grasslands is key to reversing the effects of global warming.
"When you have healthy grasslands, a very important thing happens," he said, citing the work of Zimbabwean ecologist Alan Savory. "Grass lives by sequestering carbon out of the atmosphere, and when it goes into that grass and that grass becomes healthy, in the fall and winter cycle, it becomes the equivalent of mulch in a gigantic garden. It literally becomes the soil."
Healthy grasslands require a healthy stock of grazing animals, said Murphey, an official ambassador of Earth Day Texas.
"And cowboy culture and the cattle culture is an essential part of this," he said. "My album is about the fact that ranchers have had to fight to keep operations going over the past 100 years, when in fact, they should be supported."