Robert Earl Keen brings his down-home persona to Boulder July Fourth weekend

:: Marquee Magazine presents ::
:: Robert Earl Keen ::
:: Boulder Theater :: August 5 ::


By Alex Samuel

July 4th weekend is the perfect time to toss back a Budweiser and shamelessly soak in an hour-and-a-half of good ole’ American music — songs drenched in aw shucks-style storytelling with an unapologetic hint of country twang mixed with rock. Or, more simply, Robert Earl Keen’s music.

In the last 25 years, Keen defined alt-country Americana with tinny ballads, rowdy revelries, and bluesy storytelling. Now, the Houston-born icon, who talked with The Marquee just moments before taking the stage for a Texas gig, said that he is putting an album together, working on a novel, and continuing to tour.

Keen began by playing on his College Station, Texas porch with neighbor Lyle Lovett in the early 1980s and went on to self-finance his first album, No Kinda Dancer, in 1984. After his second iconic album in 1988, Keen began playing “a lot of little bitty solo gigs” peppered with storytelling and sing-a-long audiences.

By the early 1990s, Keen quieted his inner-troubadour and focused on touring with his band. Seventeen albums and countless shows later, Keen credits his success to his “great, great band of really good players,” he said. “We have a good time on stage, and that’s reflected on stage.”
Today, his band consists of Rich Brotherton, who has been with Keen since 1993; Bill Whitbeck; Tom Van Schaik; and the ‘newest’ member, Marty Muse, who joined eight years ago.

It’s easy to expect the same old scene from a musician two decades into his career, but Keen and his band continue to weave new twists throughout a steady familiarity. The secret: a band that can play anything from punk to polka, steady touring, and Keen’s down to earth self-awareness.
“I’m not locked into one bag or one record label. I’ve never been a hit on country radio or pop radio, and [the band’s]like me – they need to be on stage occasionally,” Keen said. “That’s where the consistency comes in and makes a difference and why people think they’re gonna get something good. I’m not trying to throw everybody avant-garde curveballs all the time.”

That said, Keen is winding up for a slider. He is remixing an acoustic Texas show from January that will be available as a free download in September. Keen explained that he’s making it available for free for a couple of reasons. “It’s what’s going on now,” Keen said. “I’ve always been a real advocate of ‘music is about communication.’ My thought is: Why not? I like these songs. Some people record an entire album to let people download them. It’s a tip of the hat to this way of thinking.”

Keen, who was an English major at Texas A&M, is also tipping his hat to literary greats and working on a novel. “I’ve always been really insecure about my prose writing,” he said. “I’ve read a lot – Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Saul Bellow – and I always go back to them when I feel stifled. I don’t want anyone to think, ‘Who is this guy?’ But, my prose is my prose. I have been working at it. The stuff I read in college made all the difference in the world.”

Keen added that he’s excited to get back to Colorado. “We always have a great time in Colorado. From the very beginning, when we used to play there, we always had a good audience show up and we consistently have a great show. There’s a higher IQ over there,” Keen said. “They can see what they’re dealing with, real quick.”

:: Marquee Magazine presents ::
:: Robert Earl Keen ::
:: Boulder Theater :: August 5 ::

Recommended if you like:
• James McMurtry
• John Prine
• Lyle Lovett

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