by Julian Spivey
Texas music legend Robert Earl Keen was all smiles as he put on a terrific show for the Rev Room crowd on Saturday, Nov. 21 in Little Rock, Ark.
You could tell the veteran singer-songwriter was having a good time at the show performing a mixture of new tracks from his bluegrass album Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions, released earlier this year, with classics that everybody in the audience seemed to know by heart.
Keen and his incredibly talented six-person band opened their set with four consecutive tracks from Happy Prisoner starting with “Hot Corn, Cold Corn” and terrific covers of Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and Bill Monroe’s “Footprints in the Snow.”
It was when Keen started into his classic songs like 1998’s “Feelin’ Good Again” that the crowd really got into the show and that feeling didn’t let up for the rest of the night. It truly does “feels so good feelin’ good again” at a Robert Earl Keen show. You know an artist is feeling pretty good about a show when they throw songs into their set mid-show that weren’t on the initial setlist. I could view the setlist from where I stood at the front-side of the stage and was pleasantly surprised, as was the entirety of the crowd, when Keen threw 1994’s “Gringo Honeymoon” into the show impromptu style. Following “Gringo Honeymoon,” was his modern day Christmas classic “Merry Christmas from the Family,” which truly put everybody in the Rev Room into the Holiday spirit. “Merry Christmas from the Family” really is one of the few great original Christmas tunes out there, likely because it gives a real-life “Christmas Vacation” type view on the holiday.
Keen is known as one of the great storytellers in the genres of Red Dirt Country and Americana and he has a knack for telling interesting stories on the stage, as well. Like the time he was in a Starbucks and the girl at the drive thru window said she heard he was some kind of famous singer and wanted him to play a song. He begrudgingly did and it turned into the humorous “Wireless in Heaven.”
Among the other classics from his 30-plus year career that he performed on stage were “Shades of Gray,” “Beats the Devil,” “Dreadful Selfish Crime” and the humorous “Five Pound Bass.” Keen also performed “The Man Behind the Drums,” his tribute to the late, great Levon Helm, an Arkansas native, and drummer for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame group The Band.
Every aspect of Keen’s legendary career was on point on Saturday night from his very first album 1984’s No Kinda Dancer to his most recent, this was evident when he pulled out the old tune “Willie” from his debut album 31 years ago toward the end of his set.
Keen finished his set with a rip-roaring performance of “The Road Goes on Forever” to the gleeful screams and yells of the adoring crowd. Hearing an entire room full of people shouting “The road goes on forever and the party never ends” is truly one of the most amazing concert moments I’ve ever seen/heard in person.
His encore would be among the most impressive moments of the night, performing fan-favorites “I’m Comin’ Home,” “I Gotta Go” and “Corpus Christi Bay” consecutively to close out the night – fans singing along to every single word.
Keen certainly lived up to his Texas legend status on Saturday night.
The Rev Room is a small venue in Little Rock that frequently houses members of the Red Dirt Country music genre like Keen, Jason Boland & the Stragglers, the Turnpike Troubadours and more of their like. It always has a fantastic sound, great atmosphere and the bands always seem to play with absolute joy. If you’re a lover of fantastic music there’s likely no better place to see it in central Arkansas.