Have Yourself “A Very Kacey Christmas”
A yuletide album that’s actually worth listening to this holiday season.
Country star Kacey Musgraves has made it look easy with her first two major label albums. Same Trailer Different Park, released in 2013, won Best Country Album at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards, and Pageant Material, released two years later, was nominated for the same category. She was the whole package: witty, authentic, fashionable, self-deprecating, and cute as a cat meme. She’s like Taylor Swift if she hadn’t sold out to pop. So if Musgraves can do no wrong, why not venture into a land where only crooners like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Harry Connick have enjoyed much enduring success—Christmas music—and see if she can break up the good ol’ boys club?
There have been more acts than one might think that have attempted to capitalize on the holiday season and record yuletide albums. Rolling Stone’s list “The 25 Greatest Christmas Albums of All Time” reveals a wide array, including James Brown’s Funky Christmas, Christmas With Weezer, and Cee Lo’s Magic Moment. If these titles don’t ring a bell, that’s probably because it’s really hard to make a memorable Christmas album. People forget about it immediately after the holidays and may not recall it the following year. Sometimes musicians err with non-classic fare, or their spin on a standard veers. Christmas music is background music for decorating or hosting parties—people don’t want to be challenged by it.
A Very Kacey Christmas is exceptional because it strikes a balance between originality and tradition, and it doesn’t feel at all forced. There’s a take on “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” a kitschy ditty first recorded in 1953 by ten-year-old Gayla Peevey and being introduced to a new generation not only by Musgraves but also a United States Postal Service TV commercial. And then there are timeless cuts like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” made unique through subtle tweaks, like the accent of a steel guitar. Of the twelve songs on the album, four are originals.
One song that isn’t present is “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Understandable—that’s a tough one to, as they say, make your own. In its absence, here are twelve gifts given to us by Musgraves—the pride of Golden, a town of about two hundred people, 75 or so miles east of Dallas. Below are all the reasons why attending her one and only Texas date in support of the new album, on Wednesday at Billy Bob’s, in Fort Worth, will fill you with joy.
1. Musgraves has a big heart. Earlier this month she saw the documentary movie Alive Inside, about music’s ability to act as a therapeutic agent. She was overwhelmed. But instead of just taking to social media to talk about the power of music, she took her band to a retirement home to harness that power. Because musicians often have late nights, they tend to like to have their days to themselves. So this was certainly going above and beyond. It’s not unusual though. A look at Musgraves’s website reveals a lot about her knack for giving back. For the past four years, she has hosted meet and greet sessions with her fans. Such arrangements aren’t uncommon, but how many acts actually post big batches of pics from all the sessions?
2. Musgraves puts on a good show. Did you catch her “Dime Store Cowgirl” performance at the 2015 Country Music Awards, with her backing band in two-tone pink nudie suits and a backdrop projecting unicorns racing past rainbows? Spectacle seems in order for the Christmas show too, where Kacey-land becomes a winter wonderland, with snow, trees, and the promise of Santa. It’s all an extension of Musgraves’s style, beginning with her wardrobe. “I just want my stage outfits to be a modern, sexy take on all the queens of the silver screen—all the stars of the forties and fifties of the country western genre,” she told People magazine. “They had fringe and lots of sparkle and very classic cowgirl silhouettes that really inspire me. There’s something kind of edgy about taking it way back.”
3. Musgraves is buddies with Willie Nelson. That’s the same Willie Nelson who in 1979 recorded his own Christmas album, Pretty Paper. Their friendship took root in 2013, after Musgraves posted a shout-out to a lesser-known Nelson song titled “Are You Sure,” recorded in 1965. The following year, Musgraves was on tour with Nelson and pitched him on recording the song as a duet for Pageant Material. Now they’re at it again on A Very Kacey Christmas with the tropical-sounding “A Willie Nice Christmas.” The refrain is a tongue-twister with a telltale kicker: “Yeah, I hope you have a really / A really, really, Willie nice Christmas / And may we all stay higher than the angel on top of the tree.” Obviously, their affinity for each other is about more than just the music. In 2015 Musgraves wrote a list of things people don’t know about her for US Weekly, including the fact that she framed a joint given to her by Nelson.
4. Musgraves has her own line of cowboy boots. There’s her personal pair, which light up. And then there are the ones she offers through Lucchese, the heralded bootmaker out of El Paso. What greater certification of “I Am Texan” is there? Even better, there are not one, not two, but three styles to choose from. First is the Gallop, derived from her love of the equestrian world. Second is the Monterrey, inspired by her trips to Mexico. And for the finale: the Golden Arrow, which Musgraves is quoted on the Lucchese site as saying, “This boot is majorly influenced from a fifties pair that are my absolute favorite . . . I probably wear them at every show. Also, the symbol that has brought me so many reasons to celebrate—the arrow.” Willie Nelson must be jealous. A Nelson-designed pair of New Balance running shoes would be something special.
5. Musgraves lets her gut be her guide. Take that arrow she speaks of. On Same Trailer Different Park, there is a song titled “Follow Your Arrow,” about being yourself. On it, she questions the conventions of abstinence and faith. The real bombshell, though, is this string of lyrics: “Make lots of noise / Kiss lots of boys / Or kiss lots of girls / If that’s something you’re into.” Wait a second, did Musgraves just advocate for homosexuality? Is that even allowed in country music? Apparently not on the radio, according to Billboard. “This [is] not your mother’s country music,” Fox News said. But as Musgraves told Radio.com, “Regardless of your political beliefs, everybody should be able to love who they want to love and live how they want to live.”
6. Musgraves is comfortable with who she is. She hasn’t abandoned the small town ethos of Golden (which this Texas Monthly profile revealed is also home to the Oprah Winfrey–endorsed sweet potato). On Same Trailer Different Park, there are the songs “My House,” about the upside of trailer life (“Any KOA is A-OK as long as I’m with you”), and “Merry Go ’Round,” about the downside (“Mama’s hooked on Mary Kay / Brother’s hooked on Mary Jane / And daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down”). The same theme is also present in songs on Pageant Material, including “Family Is Family,” wherein she gleefully accepts her biological fate: “Family is family, in church or in prison / You get what you get, and you don’t get to pick ’em.” This is the champion that the people from the other side of the tracks have been pining for in their country music.
7. Musgraves is an animal lover. Last year she adopted a dog named Bambi. Before that she rescued a three-legged dog named Pearl. In March Musgraves went out and got a horse name Mismo. “Cowgirl dreams DO come true,” she wrote on Facebook. John Grogan, author of Marley & Me, put it best: “Animal lovers are a special breed of humans, generous of spirit, full of empathy, perhaps a little prone to sentimentality, and with hearts as big as a cloudless sky.”
8. Musgraves headlined the State Fair of Texas. Performing at state fairs would seem to be beneath a Grammy-winning singer. But apparently Musgraves’s dad operates a kettle-corn stand so the fairgrounds are familiar grounds for her. Playing the state fair this year was a good excuse to do a cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” with the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. So let’s see, there’s the Willie Nelson connection. The cowboy boots. The horse ownership. The State Fair of Texas performance. And the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. Boy, you can take the girl out of Texas—these days Musgraves lives in Nashville—but you can’t take the Texas out of the girl. Even before she was famous, Musgraves was touting her state pride. When she was fourteen or fifteen, she self-released a now-forgotten album with the song “You’re From Texas.”
9. Musgraves has transcended reality television. In 2007 she appeared on Nashville Star, a countrified version of American Idol. The number of people who come out aces on the other end of these shows is very few. That number was even fewer for Nashville Star. Fellow Texan Miranda Lambert, season one’s third-place finisher, is the show’s only other mainstream breakout besides Musgraves. Initially it didn’t look good for Musgraves. She placed seventh out of only ten contestants. Yet Musgraves didn’t let it get her down. No, she persevered and in 2013 her song “Mama’s Broken Heart,” written with regular songwriting partners Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, was recorded by Miranda Lambert, later hitting platinum.
10. Musgraves respects those who have come before her. Her devotion to Willie Nelson has already been chronicled here, but if you need more proof, check out this deep-dive by the Austin American-Statesman. Musgraves likewise sings the praises of Dolly Parton and George Strait. Parton received the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Country Music Awards. In tribute, Musgraves performed Parton’s “Here You Come Again” and then she joined Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Jennifer Nettles, and Carrie Underwood for “I Will Always Love You.” Meanwhile, earlier this year, Musgraves opened for Strait at a few of his Strait to Vegas shows, where they partnered on “I Just Want to Dance With You.” Musgraves told the Las Vegas Sun that the opportunity was “like getting a royal seal of approval.”
11. Musgraves promotes new talent. Leon Bridges, the Fort Worth soul singer, and the Quebe Sisters, the Dallas western swing trio, also make appearances on A Very Kacey Christmas. While Bridges is moderately well known—his song “Coming Home” was a hit—most people probably haven’t heard of the Quebe Sisters. The former joined Musgraves on “Present Without a Bow”; the latter provided backup on “Let It Snow” and “Mele Kalikimaka.” Neither act has dates scheduled in December so don’t be surprised if they make an appearance at Billy Bob’s, which is more or less in their backyard.
OTHER EVENTS ACROSS TEXAS
State of the Art
Compared with the number of places dedicated to the visual arts in other major Texas cities—well, let’s just say Austin has a ways to go. But the Contemporary Austin is making significant strides in the right direction with a makeover of its main facility, the Jones Center. The opening party will include a screening of a discussion between journalist Dan Rather and artist Jim Hodges, whose sculpture With Liberty and Justice for All (A Work in Progress) resides on the building’s roofline.
The Contemporary Austin, December 16, 9 p.m., thecontemporaryaustin.org
Of Guns and Angels
A Christmas Story—the one about the kid wanting a Red Ryder BB gun despite everyone warning him he’ll shoot his eye out—isn’t old enough to be considered a classic. Yet it’s arguably the second-most endearing and family-friendly Christmas movie after the standard-bearer, It’s a Wonderful Life, both of which the Texas Theatre will screen this week.
Majestic Theatre, December 18 at 5 p.m. & December 22 at 8 p.m., thetexastheatre.com
Get a Feel for It
When people talk about feeling the music and you still don’t get it, consider attending Day for Night for a crash course, where acts including Blood Orange, the Butthole Surfers, and Survive, made up of the Grammy-nominated musicians behind the soundtrack to the Stranger Things TV series, are complemented with mind-sweeping art displays.
Barbara Jordan Post Office, December 16–18, 2 p.m., dayfornight.io
NEW BRAUNFELS / AUSTIN
Married to Country
In a way, Austin singer-songwriters Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis are the equivalent of George Jones and Tammy Wynette: exceptional performers in their own right, but also masters of the duet. There is one main difference though, as Robison and Willis’s Holiday Shindigs will show: Robison and Willis’s love runs deeper than simply sharing the same stage.
Gruene Hall and Paramount Theatre, December 16 & 17, 7 p.m., bruceandkellyshow.com
SAN ANTONIO / AUSTIN / HOUSTON / DALLAS / FORT WORTH
All in the Family
Robert Earl Keen’s holiday song “Merry Christmas From the Family” is a perverse little number about a dysfunctional unit, yet it’s cause for celebration at his “Merry Christmas From the Fam-O-Lee” series of shows, where audience members are expected to sing along to it—and probably several others as well.
Various locations, December 17, 20, 26, 29 & 30, robertearlkeen.com