By Janet Warner, Guest Blogger
I was pleased to be able to attend A Cowboy Christmas with Michael Martin Murphy at Lone Tree Arts Center on December 22nd, 2017. My husband is not a fan of country music in any form (his loss, perhaps?), but the dear friend I took with me was looking forward to this show as much as I was. I must be honest, however, and admit that we were forced to leave the show at intermission due to illness, so I can only write about what I saw and heard during the first hour of a nearly two hour performance.
As we drove into the rear of the Arts Center parking lot, we passed the big tour bus that Murphey arrived in. It looked pretty fancy to my eyes, and if one is going to take an extended road trip, I would think this would be the way to go. After looking at Murphey’s tour schedule from November through July 2018, he’s going to get a lot of use out that bus.
Shortly before the performance, I was curious to know whether the show was sold out. It was close, with only three single seats still available on the online seating chart; the next night’s performance looked the very much the same. Either people had heard about or seen Michael Martin Murphey before, or the marketing department had done its job selling the show. I suspect the former was true, because from my vantage point near the back of the theatre, it appeared that the majority of the audience knew the artist and were already fans. I say this because it looked to me like many of those attending were prepared to see his country show and dressed accordingly; I saw a plethora of cowboy hats, boots, western shirts and leather. In fact, a few of the women were dressed in full western regalia and would have been entirely comfortable in any 1800s Wild West saloon! And, no surprise, the bulk of the audience were baby boomers like me.
The stage itself was sparsely set up, with five microphones on stands and a blank video screen behind them. A young man walked out to introduce Murphey, and it turned out to be his youngest son, Brennan. He said a few words about his dad, the band, the “Murphandise” for sale, and the show itself, and injected the introduction with enough humor so that I didn’t much mind the sales pitch. Michael Martin Murphey appeared soon after, along with his band of four. Two, in addition to Murphey, played guitar, one played electric violin, and Brennan played some sort of string instrument that I didn’t recognize, but it added a nice layer of interest to the music. Murphey, dressed in a long, fringed, soft leather jacket, neckerchief and jeans, looked the quintessential cowboy, but then again, they all did!
My impressions of the show were many. Truthfullly, I was not very familiar with Murphey’s music, other than the songs that made it on the radio years ago (such as “Wildfire” and “Carolina in the Pines”). I didn’t recognize most of the songs he did, but it didn’t really matter, because the music was really good. It was interesting too, because I could understand every word of the lyrics so I was drawn in by the stories he told. Murphey may be in the latter part of his career (due to getting older, and not because he’s lost any of his talent), but he can still keep an audience engaged . The show was a mixture of storytelling, poetry and music. Murphey said he’s been doing this show in one form or another for twenty-four years, and it’s obvious he still enjoys performing it. One of the things I most enjoyed was the harmonizing. Though there was only one woman in the band, her voice was strong and full of character, and the combination of voices behind Murphey was first rate. I’m sure the whole point of having a band behind you is to enhance the main performer, and that was definitely true here, all of them fine musicians in their own right.
The video screen behind Murphey and the band was used to show still pictures and video, its purpose to enhance the poem or story he was telling. Some of the pictures and video showed repeatedly, and that would be my only minor complaint with the stage and setup. I think more could have been done to improve the quality of the whole experience by having something interesting to look at onstage besides microphone stands and a video screen. But, perhaps that was the whole point; the focus was solely on the music and not on bells and whistles. And after such a long and successful career in music, perhaps Michael Martin Murphey knows what he’s doing a little better than I do! Well done – I think everyone had a great time.