Sometimes the things we are most reluctant to do at the start turn into our most successful and enjoyable endeavors. Singer Kelly Willis isn’t shy to admit her husband, Bruce Robison, wasn’t always so keen on doing a holiday show.
“I’ve always loved holiday songs and Christmas music — the whole vibe of December — where Bruce — I don’t think really cared much about it,” explains Willis.
The annual gigs that started as an opportunity for Willis and Robison to jam with Robison’s brother, Charlie, have become a Texas tradition, and their Holiday Shindig Tour is now in its 19th year. The series of 10 dates wraps with the final stops at Gruene Hall Friday, December 16, and Paramount Theatre Saturday, December 17. “So Bruce is 19 years into a holiday show. He never would have imagined!”
With four kids, the holidays are hectic enough for the first couple of Texas country music. Add in rehearsing, gigging, and personal holiday prep, and it’s a full plate for both. “It is the most insane time of the year for me,” Willis says. “But it’s all worth it, as it’s a great time for us and we have a lot of fun.”
The show, which includes a mix of holiday songs and hits, became so popular the Austin stop was eventually moved to the Paramount. It always features a special guest too. This year, they’ve invited an old friend with an unmistakable voice to share the stage. “I’m so excited! I think she’s got one of the best voices in country music,” says Willis of Lee Ann Womack. "She’s been a friend of ours for a long time so it will be really fun to get to hang out.”
While the holiday shows have been a great chance for Willis and her husband to reconnect with old friends, they were also the impetus for the last several years of musical collaboration between the couple, which resulted in two acclaimed albums and lots of gigging as the Bruce and Kelly Show. “[The holiday shows were] the launching pad for us to do the duo records because we had so much fun playing together and it was different than what we would do solo,” explains Willis. “We just brought stuff to the table that wasn’t there when we played our solo gigs.”
As much fun as they’ve had working mostly as a duo over the last few years, in the new year Willis and Robison are going to refocus on their solo careers. He is planning to release a new record in March, and she’s planning to complete her own solo album in 2017.
If you want to see one last installment of the Bruce and Kelly Show, the Gruene Hall and Paramount Theatre dates may be your last chance for a while. One thing's for sure, their holiday tour is something special that’s become part of a lot of peoples’ traditions.
“It feels like old Austin when we get in there — sort of the spirit of the Austin music scene where it really feels like family and familiar and a party celebrating this great community,” she explains. “I really look forward to it!”