Kickin' with Keen
by katie eldridge
It wasn't long ago when the Robert Earl Keen Band graced Salt Lake City with a raucous performance at the Zephyr Club. You say you've never heard of them? You say you hate country? It's time you realize this band is not country.
In fact, Robert Earl Keen, when asked to describe his music said, "I'm country music for people who hate country." It's an assessment that most everyone in the Zephyr would have agreed with. Trying to find a belt buckle or even a cowboy hat in there would have been difficult, if not impossible. Instead, there were all the features of an REK live performance: sweaty bodies, devoted fans (singing every word to every song), floor-thumping guitar riffs, and laughter from a truly thankful crowd. This is a band upholding what the music industry was founded upon; live performances.
Dressed as though he could be on the cover of a J.Crew catalog, sitting in his plush tour bus, Keen described it this way, "I believe in music. In a world of mass media, the only thing that's not expendable is live entertainment, and that's what I believe in. I think people's best memories are from concerts. I'm just in the good memories business."
Part of being in the good memories business means being accessible to fans. After each show, Keen chats with concert-goers while selling and singing his CD's. That way, the guy in the front row with the Robert Earl Keen lyrics tattooed on his biceps can tell Keen how his music has affected his life. Yes, some people take their music more seriously than others.
For the past decade, this band has toured relentlessly. Keen says he used to tour more, but now performs about 175 concerts a year. After thousands of live gigs, this group of musicians has learned how to pace themselves. Originally from Texas, the band's biggest following is from Austin. Keen realizes that their fan base has spread across the nation.
"We get a similar reception everywhere. I don't know if the word got out, or if it's just what we put out on stage. Probably a combination of the two." Keen palled around with Lyle Lovett back in the '70s when they both attended Texas A & M. Together they wrote "This Old Porch" - a song which they each perform on their own albums.
Keen's record label, ARISTA, recently disbanded its Nashville outfit, putting the band in the market for a new label. Keen says another album is on the way, but the group is talking about releasing this one on the Internet without the backing of a new label. It's another way to keep their music untainted by the industry.
"The Road Goes on Forever" is one of Keen's most well known anthems. The chorus says, "The road goes on forever and the part never ends." Keen makes those words truth every time he and his band step on stage, keeping the music and the party alive for themselves and those crazy people dancing and sweating.