After 19 years of performing holiday concerts, Kelly Willis still gets nervous.
“It’s fun, but that first show is a little bit scary,” Willis said of the Holiday Shindig Tour, a short concert series she and husband Bruce Robison put on every year. “It’s just like when you’re doing any type of different material live, except this is all seasonal music that we only play once a year.”
Any seasonal jitters should be assuaged by the time Willis and Robison arrive in Austin Saturday night for the final stop on the tour.
That last stop will take place at the Paramount Theatre at 8 p.m. They’ll be joined by Lee Ann Womack, where the three will perform selections from Robison and Willis’ “Happy Holidays” album, among other songs.
“We’ve been friends with Lee Ann for years; her husband [Frank Liddell] used to publish Bruce, and she has one of the best voices anywhere,” Willis said. “Getting to harmonize with her is an honor. Her voice is like being in the presence of the divine.”
Willis said she didn’t expect to be still be doing this show nearly two decades on, which sprung up on a whim on stage when she and Robison decided to add ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ to a set as an encore song.
“And this was 19 years ago, so not a lot of people in the audience knew the song, believe it or not,” Willis said. “People were coming up to us after the show asking if Bruce wrote it.”
That first show, she said, was a concert with Robison’s brother Charlie and his then-wife Emily Robison (now Emily Strayer) of the Dixie Chicks.
“After the Dixie Chicks got big, we couldn’t do that exact show again, but then the next year we wanted to do some holiday songs with just the two of us. And I think in the 19 years we did it, I only missed one year, and that was because I was pregnant with twins.”
Throughout the years, the show has hosted talent such as Joe Ely and Rodney Crowell, and Robison and Willis have created some Texas holiday standards of their own.
“‘Oklahoma Christmas’ is always fun to do, that gets a good crowd reaction, that story of trying to spend time with your significant other’s extended family,” Willis said. “And it’s always a highlight for me every year to do ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside,’ which I think has gotten a bad rap lately — for me, it’s not about date rape at all, and it’s a fun duet song.”
The two aren’t planning on releasing another holiday album, but you would be forgiven if you thought they were, with all of this year’s Christmas offerings from various country artists.
The new year will however see new solo projects from both Willis and Robison, though the release dates are up in the air.
“At the last few shows, Bruce has been saying he’ll have a new record out in March, so he’s much more driven than I am in that department. He’ll go in the studio and record within weeks, and it’ll take me a little longer. But we’re looking forward to releasing some solo stuff in 2017.”
Buy tickets for the Holiday Shindig Tour here.