Robert Earl Keen's irreverent Christmas song 'Merry Christmas from the Family' is easily his most popular. Shame he can't play it year-round.

Robert Earl Keen's irreverent Christmas song 'Merry Christmas from the Family' is easily his most popular. Shame he can't play it year-round.

Jonathan Zizzo/Special contributor

Texas troubadour Robert Earl Keen sings at venues big and small all year long. But, like Santa Claus, he's busiest at the holidays.

That's because of Keen's most popular song, the irreverent "Merry Christmas from the Family," which describes the good, bad and drunken family holiday drama most of us can relate to. The hilarious song has been covered by many artists, the Dixie Chicks included, and has even inspired a book and a sequel tune.

Robert Earl Keen

Without the song's success, Keen says he'd be "stumbling around Wal-Mart like everyone else" each winter. (Instead, he's rushing from city to city to bring his tacky, tinseled show to fans.)

Instead of shunning the novelty tune, Keen appreciates what the song has done for his 32-year career. His annual Christmas tour involves elaborate sets and costumes that are as prominent as Keen classics "Gringo Honeymoon" and "Corpus Christi Bay."

Looking back, it was rather blunt logic that led Keen to follow a tinsel-lined path each December:

"We had become the Jimmy Buffett of Christmas," Keen explains, laughing.

"Year after year, we'd be booked up through December, and we'd play our non-Christmas songs while people sat with their arms folded. But when we'd finally play 'Merry Christmas from the Family,' everyone would get happy all of a sudden, so we started developing a Christmas show with new sets and new songs and different themes."

Robert Earl Keen

He'll also promote his recently-released live album Live Dinner Reunion -- which serves as a sequel to his lauded 1996 record, No. 2 Live Dinner. For Live Dinner Reunion, the Texas A&M graduate welcomed old friends Lyle Lovett and Joe Ely onto the stage with him. Also joining were Cody Canada, Cory Morrow and Reckless Kelly -- a few of the prominent Texas country artists inspired by the influential live album that's still Keen's biggest seller.

The magic of that album, Keen says, "was hearing the stories on how that old record connected with so many artists and how much it's meant to them for so long."

Keen's upcoming shows this Christmas include stops at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville in addition to Dallas on Dec. 29 and Fort Worth on Dec. 30. The theme is Family Country Gold Jamboree. But it's a line from Keen's second-most famous song that serves as the theme for his stellar career: Regardless of the season, "the road goes on forever and the party never ends."

Concert details

Dec. 29 at 8 p.m. at House of Blues 2200 N. Lamar St., Dallas; and Dec. 30 at 7:30 p.m. at Bass Performance Hall, 555 Commerce St., Fort Worth. $45-$110, not including fees. Details here and here. Junior Brown opens.

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