FLYER Q&A: Robert Earl Keen brings his musical family to the WAC for one-of-a-kind holiday show

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Robert Earl Keen’s eighth annual holiday tour is currently crisscrossing the country. The event, called the “Countdown to Christmas: Lunar Tunes & Looney Times” spins holiday fables and also celebrates the 50th anniversary of mankind’s first visit to the moon.

Keen, an Americana/Texas country singer and songwriter originally from Houston, has recorded more than a dozen albums of his own and penned hits for other artists as well. He achieved a measure of holiday fame for his off-beat song “Merry Christmas from the Family,” which celebrates a Texas-style Christmas.

The Countdown to Christmas tour makes a stop on Tuesday, Dec. 17 at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville. In advance of the show, Keen answered questions about the tour and what Christmas means to him.

What: Robert Earl Keen’s “Countdown to Christmas: Lunar Tunes & Looney Times”
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17
Where: Walton Arts Center, Fayetteville
Cost: Starting at $37 plus fees
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or

Some people love Christmas. Some people … don’t. How’d you end up as a Christmas guy?

Actually, when I wrote the Christmas song I was making an album. And I kind of wrote that song for me. To entertain myself and make myself laugh. And then I played it to friend/producer Gary Velletri, and he told me I had to put it on the record. And now that song has become a whole other thing.
At shows I started realizing people just wanted to hear the Christmas song. I wasn’t getting out of there alive without playing it. Making a whole tour around it makes a lot of sense at that point.

This show also includes a theme related to the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. How’d you tie the holidays and the moon together?

It felt like a great fit with the 50th Anniversary of the moon landing being this year. A good time to honor a really great accomplishment. I liked the sound of it. We will always include fan favorites like “Merry Christmas from The Family,” but now throw in some cosmic-themed covers. 
Being from Houston, the space program kind of overshadowed everything. My teacher rolled out the TV and we watched John Glenn circle the Earth. We were all hyper-aware of the space program. Every TV in Harris County was on the night of the lunar landing. I remember being home with parents, and I remember it being dark, and they did the whole Neil Armstrong step for mankind. I was old enough to feel like that was some great closure and huge milestone in our life as Americans. So fulfilling and heartwarming that we achieved the thing John Kennedy was talking about.

Your publicist promised that this show is “unlike any other holiday show in your market.” How so?

Without giving too much away, it is pretty irreverent. There are costumes and crazy set pieces. If you know the lyrics to “Merry Christmas to the Family” you can kind of imagine what kind of things might pop up. This tour is really unlike any other shows I play the rest of the year.
My Christmas tour has always been more of a variety show with a killer band dressed up and going all out. Things you can expect are great music and a great time. Things you shouldn’t expect is one long Christmas carol. This is Christmas the way we know how to celebrate. 

The tour has obviously become a tradition for you and so you’re always out on the road during this time of year. Do you also get to have traditions at home? What does that look like for you?

It does take up a big chunk of the month. On Christmas Eve I make homemade pizza for the family. It is a great time of year for that sort of thing. Warm food and good company.

You’ve also got some new music in the works. Are you performing those songs on this tour?

I am working on new music. Stay tuned.

What’s next for you after you finish this holiday tour?

I have a run of shows at the beginning of the year! The second season of the podcast I host, “American Podcast: The 51st State,” will be released in January. Going to kick off the decade right.