As August appears and the kids brace themselves for the return to school, one thing looms large in their minds: Christmas vacation. Yes, they'll have many hours of homework, homeroom, and home games in store before then, but we know that it's the dream of a holiday break that keeps them going. And what applies to kids applies to parents and single folks too. In Amurica, it's never too early to dust off those Christmas decorations and start dreaming tinsel dreams.
The Germantown Performing Arts Center realizes this too, so today they've announced the holiday concert that keeps things real: Robert Earl Keen's Countdown to Christmas. Keen, of course, is the artist behind the all-too-real Christmas song of the not-quite dysfunctional American family, "Merry Christmas from the Family." It's worth a listen even if your stockings are yet hung with care, simply as a chronicle of what it means to be a modern extended family with, uh, issues.
With its good-natured evocation of everyday alcoholism, bland racial bias, and running out of tampons, it achieves, in the end, a kind of unsentimental sentimentality to which anyone who's had to listen to brother Ken's new wife Kay, who "talks all about AA," can relate. In fact, the song has resonated with audiences to such a degree since its release in 1994 that it's even spawned a sequel song and a book of the same name. It's in such demand that Keen has had to draw the line on when he'll perform it. "We get requests for it all year round," he's told NPR. "So, I had to create this rule, I call it the 'Linen Rule', where we don't play the song as long as you can wear linen. So it saves it and makes it fresh for the holiday season. So we start playing it around Labor Day and we play it on through the holidays. It's the big number particularly in December that we close with."
Of course, there's much more to Keen than this song. Having cut his teeth in the late-70s scene around Austin, Texas, he now has 18 albums worth of songs chronicling the foibles of everyday lives, much in the vein of Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, and other masters of Americana. While they may not all be kid-friendly, they do resonate with the struggles and joys of everyday adults going through life with open eyes. It's a refreshing way to digest the holidays at GPAC, a couple days after the gifts are all unwrapped, but before we must face the onset of New Year's Day and the inevitable return to jobs and school that follows.
Countdown to Christmas, with Robert Earl Keen and opening act Shinyribs, Saturday, December 28, 8:00 PM, Germantown Performing Arts Center (GPAC)
Tickets on sale to general public at 10 AM on Friday, August 9. See website for information on artist pre-sales and GPAC subscriber pre-sales.