Michael Martin Murphey
Michael Murphey’s Cowboy Christmas Concert at the Avalon Theatre in Grand Junction began with a slim, tall, dark-suited, white-shirt, cowboy-hatted fiddler playing an Irish reel solo. His tune blended swiftly into a Christmas medley of songs. The other members of the Rio Grande Band, with their guitars and banjo already positioned on stage, joined the fiddler. Then Michael Martin Murphey dramatically entered from the wings carrying his guitar, taking his place center stage. He smiled and waved, acknowledging the audience’s spontaneous applause, as he strapped on his guitar.
He was dressed in a tan cowboy duster, wearing leather chaps over blue jeans, atop classic cowboy boots, a blue, silky bandana tied around his neck, a red cowboy shirt and leather vest, a brown banded cowboy hat and a multi-colored serape over his shoulder. He lifted off the serape and set it down before starting the concert off with, “This Land is Your Land” and “I’m Riding Home.” One song followed another – new and old cowboy songs – as the band continued playing for the enjoyment of the crowd. With each song, you realized how lucky you were to be there listening to this country’s No. 1 cowboy poet/musician right on Main Street in your own hometown.
Born 64 years ago in the Oakcliff section of Dallas, Michael’s love of country music and folk tales came from the time he spent with his parents and younger brother on his grandfather’s and uncle’s Texas ranches. It was there as children that they were able to ride horses and play real-life cowboys. In his teens, he played his guitar and sang, entertaining at local ranches. This was his introduction into the world of entertainment. Because there was another entertainer with the same name of Michael Murphy, he added his middle name, Martin, and an “e” to his last name. So Michael Martin Murphey was born and has performed professionally singing a combination of cowboy and blue grass to receptive audiences for four decades.
His grandfather used to tell him stories, including one about a lady ghost rider and her horse who rescued people lost in the desert. This tale never left his mind and it was the basis for his 1970’s masterpiece, “Wildfire,” that he co-wrote with a friend, which is still a big hit today. In 2007, he appeared on the Letterman show performing “Wildfire” and the New Yorkers responded with the same awe and vigor that country music lovers do.
Three accomplished musicians, members of the Rio Grande Band, David Coe, Gary Roller and Pat Flynn, stood and played alongside him. Murphey varied his guitar-playing stance from sitting on a chair with his left leg crossed over his right leg, followed by a chat with the audience or a stint with his harmonica, to standing up to sing. When he played his guitar and sang “Wildfire,” everyone in the theater cheered, recognizing it as “his” song.
Between songs, Murphey shared his personal philosophy that “all our power comes from God and He gives it to us to take it and run with it.” He spoke about how some people greet each other with “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” and asked that “when we are wished ‘Happy Holidays,’ we all should respond with ‘Merry Christmas’ because that is what it is all about.”
Murphey talked about one of his musical heroes, the late Marty Robbins, telling us he thought Marty was the best all-around country singer ever. He and his band played Marty Robbins biggest hit, “El Paso.” Michael claimed his three favorite states are Texas, Colorado and New Mexico.
Up front, on the right of the stage was a huge video screen playing nature and animal winter scenes, mostly of the Rocky Mountain area. These scenes included shots of a prowling wolf in the snow and portrayed the beauty of a winter out west. It was immediately followed by gloriously bedecked dancers of varying ages, from the young to oldsters, parading to the music for old-time dancing, Virginia reel style, counter-clockwise around the wooden floor. Like magic, Murphey’s band onstage at the Avalon seemed to be playing for the dancers themselves as the dancers joyously bowed and pranced around the Texas dance hall at Christmas time.
This event on the screen copied the original historic Cowboy Christmas Ball, which originated in Austin, Texas and continues today. Murphey incorporates this winter video into his 40 traveling Christmas annual concerts. They started out in Heber City, Utah in early November, and after visiting various cities including Grand Junction, they were scheduled for Denver’s historic Paramount Theatre the following night.
The Cowboy Christmas Ball
The music was a fiddle
and a lively tambourine
And a ‘viol came imported
by the Stage from Abilene
The room was togged out
gorgeous with mistletoe and shawls
And candles flickered fresco’s
around the airy walls.”
~ Lawrence Chittenden
If we are lucky enough to have Michael Martin Murphey return for his Christmas Concert next year, get your ticket early as this year’s show was a sell-out. As the delighted, after -show crowd poured out onto Main Street, we were glowing from our musical experience. It reminded us of what Christmas is all about: our family, our beliefs, our friends and traditions. And it was all thanks to the music and philosophy of this handsome Texas cowboy, singer, songwriter, Michael Martin Murphey.
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