A few years back some friends of mine dragged me to a Robert Earl Keen concert at the Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville. Dragged isn't really the right word as I went freely, it is just that I didn't know any of Robert Earl's music. It was the first time I'd ever paid money to see someone I didn't know. It was a wonderful show – great, great fun and some fine musicianship – and it taught me to take risks on concerts. Since then I've gone to many shows without knowing much about the performer, and I've never regretted it.
Robert Earl Keen lies somewhere in the vast genre that is alt.country. You'll get plenty of banjo and fiddle when you listen to him, yet he never shies away from an electrified guitar solo either. He treads the water of a redneck, or good-old-boy persona and his songs carry the gleam of that camp, but careful listeners will find a character of much more depth. On the surface his songs are often silly and light-weight, but in reality there is the fine craftsmanship of a true songwriter.
A concert staple “The Road Goes on Forever” carries the refrain “The road goes on forever and the party never ends.” It is a line that never fails to draw hoots and hollers from the crowd as they life their beers and toast to that never ending party. Yet the lyrics tell a darker tale about a Bonnie and Clyde type couple and ends not in the least bit happy.
Such are Robert Earl's songs full of fool hearty moments for those looking for a party, and yet something more lurking below the surface.
Well... except when they aren't, such as the “That Buckin' Song” which is a bout a horse and the running gag of using version of the word “buck” which sounds ever so much like a less family friendly word and concludes with the line “That bucking mother bucker will buck you on the ground.” Nope, no depth to that, but its delivered with such wry glee that it never fails to make me smile.
This show took place at the Strawberry Music Festival in Yosemite, California, and as such was but a part of a larger collection of musicians and music. From the sounds of the audience it must have been quite a festival as they seem a bit subdued and low key by this point.