“The road drags on and the party never stops”?
Well, no, despite what you hear in Robert Earl Keen’s best-known song, beloved by many, especially those who learned the songs during their college fraternity days.
Even modern music’s most laid-back road warriors eventually have to stop (with the exception, of course, of Bob Dylan). And so it’s time for singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen to associate the name “I’m Comin’ Home” with what he says is the end of his touring days, and it’s drawn a crowd. of loyal fans Sunday night at Robinson Performance Hall to say goodbye, having landed numerous shows in Arkansas since he began his career as a Texas minstrel 41 years ago.
It was a show to remember, not just for the songs but also for the stories between the songs, the tasteful lighting and, oddly enough, its empowering Arkansas commentary, which came as a kind of lagniappe or icing on the cake. There were songs with Arkansas references and random comments such as “I’m sure I stopped every ride between Texarkana and West Memphis.”
Keen’s nearly two-hour set began with the playing of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” as the band entered the stage. Keen wore a shiny suit as he sat at the front of the stage, backed by bass, drums and the superb accompaniment of Brian Beken, a lead guitarist who also played fiddle. Noting that Arkansas has certainly produced many excellent musicians, he cited the late Levon Helm as an example, then recounted how he met Helm, came to write a song about him, and played a song about Helm, “The Man Behind the Drums”.
And the hits, as the saying goes, just kept coming. There was “I’m Coming Home”,https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2022/aug/02/the-road-brings-musician-robert-earl-keen-back-to/”Corpus Christi Bay,”https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2022/aug/02/the-road-brings-musician-robert-earl-keen-back-to/”Copenhagen,”https://www.nwaonline .com/news/2022/aug/02/the-road-brings-musician-robert-earl-keen-back-to/”Dreadful Selfish Crime”, https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2022/aug /02/the-road-brings-musician-robert-earl-keen-back-to/”Shades of Grey”, https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2022/aug/02/the-road-brings -musician-robert-earl-keen-back-to/”What I Really Mean” (with its tender line, “Wish you were here”) and, of course, “The Road Goes on Forever”, which bursts like lightning , electrifying the crowd.
There was a lengthy encore which of course included the hilarious holiday anthem, “Merry Christmas From the Family”, which resulted in a loud outburst of audience participation. And after leaving the stage and returning, Keen, 66, wrapped things up with the most perfect song in his entire catalog: “I Did It All for You.” There couldn’t have been a more perfect finale than this.
Opening act Brent Cobb had nearly an hour, a rarity for most openers, and certainly won over new fans with a raucous, well-paced set backed by drums, bass, guitar and energetic keyboard work from Hope/Nashville, Ark., area native Matt Rowland before heading to the other Nashville to get gigs like this.
Cobb, who turned 36 on Monday, will be the pride of his home country as he progresses.