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Texas Songwriting Hero Robert Earl Keen Announces Surprise Retirement

By Jon Freeman

Jon Freeman

Robert Earl Keen says that after September 2022 he’ll no longer tour or give public performances. The beloved Texas singer-songwriter announced his retirement on Friday with a heartfelt if surprising note on his website.

“I [have] been blessed with a lifetime of brilliant, talented, colorful, electric and magical folks throughout my life,” Keen wrote. “This chorus of joy, this parade of passion, this bullrush of creativity, this colony of kindness and generosity are foremost in my thoughts TODAY.”

Keen, 66, plans to continue playing numerous shows up through Sept. 4, when he will wrap things up with multiple performances at Floore’s Country Store in Helotes, Texas. After that, he notes, he plans to continue writing songs and interviewing guests for his Americana podcast. Additionally, Keen will host a fan-appreciation party on Sept. 5, the details for which have yet to be announced.

In his letter, Keen pointed out that his decision to retire had nothing to do with health issues: “I’m a strong believer in clarity and truth. As much as I love what I do, it’s more important that I do it well or not at all. I’m not sick or experiencing any existential crisis. I feel that making a decision and quitting the road while I still love it, is the way I want to leave it. I’ve witnessed first hand the alternative and promised myself I would go out feeling all the love for music and performing the same way I entered — with passion and enthusiasm.”

A native of Houston, Keen became one of the leading lights of Austin’s singer-songwriter scene in the late Seventies and Eighties, building a loyal following on the strength of his songwriting and live performances. Among those compositions are gems like “The Front Porch Song,” which he wrote with his onetime roommate Lyle Lovett, and his signature number “The Road Goes on Forever,” recorded for 1989’s West Textures on Sugar Hill Records.

Keen has regularly released new recordings, with 12 studio albums and seven live albums to his credit. His most recent studio project under his own name, 2015’s Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions , featured him tackling standards like “Long Black Veil” and even covering Richard Thompson’s “52 Vincent Black Lightning.” In 2019, he teamed up with Randy Rogers to release an album as the Stryker Brothers .

Though never exactly a mainstream country star, Keen seemed content with the amount of fame he had attained over the years.

“I’m at the best level of celebrity in the world. I can go anywhere I want to and nobody ever really recognizes me unless I talk,” he told Rolling Stone . “It’s what my wife calls ‘playing the Earl card.’ I go, ‘Hi, I’m Robert Keen,’ and [people] go, ‘Oh, OK, nice to see you.’ Then I say, ‘Robert  Earl  Keen,’ and they go, ‘Oh!’”

Earl concluded his letter with a nod to his most well-known song. “Although it might not be apparent here,” he wrote, “I promise, The Road Goes on Forever and the Party Never Ends.”

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Robert Earl Keen’s melancholy but raucous farewell at the Birchmere

The texas troubadour makes a sentimental and satisfying stop on what he says will be his final tour.

Partying can be such sweet sorrow. Robert Earl Keen’s Friday show at the Birchmere, on a tour designed to let the Texas troubadour say farewell to fans and vice versa, was full of melancholy raucousness.

Keen announced earlier this year that he would stop performing for good after this summer, and the flock that packed the club for the first of two sold-out nights seemed very conscious that the hourglass is running out of sand. Keen, 66, has said health is not a factor in his decision to give up the road; he just had an epiphany during yet another overnight tour bus ride that he didn’t want to die far from home and alone.

Yet Keen seemed frailer than normal on this night. He took a seat at the center of the stage and stayed there, a departure from the stand-and-deliver format of his previous tours. And before he sang a note, Keen gave a long and nostalgic monologue on how hard he had to work as a young artist, back when he was best known for being Lyle Lovett’s college roommate, just to get to a slot as an opening act at the Birchmere, and how much it still means to play the exalted concert hall.

Given the heavy prologue, one couldn’t help but look for deeper meaning in the lyrics. Keen sometimes made it easy. He turned his opening song, “What I Really Mean,” a sweet ballad from 2005 that was originally a love letter to folks back home whom he missed while on the road, into a thank-you to folks who filled the club to say goodbye, changing its last line, “Wish you were here,” to, “I’m glad you’re here.”

Then again, words have always mattered at Keen’s shows, where it sometimes seems as if every fan not only knows every lyric, but also wants everybody to know that they know every lyric, and to prove it by outshouting the next guy. The decibel competition was predictably fierce on “Gringo Honeymoon,” “Corpus Christi Bay” and “Merry Christmas From the Family.”

“Amarillo Highway,” an anthem written by fellow Texan and singing storyteller Terry Allen, was delivered over a ZZ Top-like boogie beat. “Dreadful Selfish Crime” had even Keen banging his head and dancing in his chair. “Shades of Gray,” one of Keen’s many up-tempo crime tunes, came complete with a shredding solo from guitarist Brian Beken. Keen seemed amused by the ferocity of the arrangement. “Turn that crap down, son!” he joked to Beken, the youngest member of his backing trio. (Beken signed on with Keen in 2015. The rhythm section of drummer Tom Van Schaik and bassist Bill Whitbeck has been with Keen since the 1990s.) But nobody really wanted the din diminished.

The glorious noise peaked on “The Road Goes On Forever,” Keen’s best-known story song, as he got to its climactic line, “The road goes on forever and the party never ends.” That song closes as Sonny, its anti-hero protagonist, gets arrested for murder and is condemned to death. In the real world, Keen has sentenced himself only to rest and relaxation. But as Keen ambled back to the dressing room and the lights came up, there was an overwhelming sense that nothing really goes on forever and that something wonderful was ending. Keen, like everybody else in the room, is going to miss this.

robert earl keen last tour

robert earl keen last tour

‘Texas is just in me’: Americana legend Robert Earl Keen reflects on retiring from touring after 41 years

"The business of being on the road took up about 80% of my life," says Robert Earl Keen. "I just never had really any real life as far as for myself or for my family. I wanted to at least have, you know, where I’m still up and moving around, I still wanted to have that connection and make that the priority in my life."

“The road goes on forever, and the party never ends.”

For generations of Texans, when singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen sang about it, it seemed almost like a promise, even if everyone knew it was just too good to be true.

And so it was bittersweet as accolades poured in prior to Keen’s final concert of his World Tour of Texas recently. After 41 years on the road – some 20 albums, songs like “Feelin’ Good Again,” “Corpus Christi Bay,” “The Front Porch Song” – the realization is slowly sinking in among fans of the Houston-born Americana music legend that the road may not go on forever, after all.

On his decision to retire from touring, Keen said that, having seen other entertainers go way beyond their prime, he never wanted to be just a shadow of himself.

“I thought that that was no way to leave your audience or leave yourself, you know – that thought was with me from the time I was a little kid,” Keen said. “And I felt like I was starting to slip a little bit. I felt like I was just not as excited about it. And it was a lot harder than it had been in the past. And I didn’t want to get to the point where it was way too hard to stop. I wanted to stop when I was still, you know, feeling it and being excited about it.

“I finally realized, kind of almost like an epiphany: I woke up in my bunk in December of last year while we were doing some Christmas shows. And I was thinking about this movie “Training Day” with Denzel Washington, and there are a couple of scenes in there where he gets right in somebody’s face and he says, “Make a decision, make a decision.” And I thought, yeah, I have to make a decision. So I just kind of ran through my calendar in my head of what I had to get done in the next few months and decided, okay, the fourth of September, that’s it."

In a speech last month at his final tour stop in Helotes, after being presented with a proclamation from the Texas Music Office, Keen noted that Nanci Griffith had been a mentor to him.

“I don’t want to overstate it, but she was really like an angel for me,” Keen said. “Because she would come in at times – and I just thought I was, you know, stopped dead in the water – and she’d say, ‘You know, I just recorded one of your songs; are you going to make a record? I was going to sing on your record.'”

So Griffith sang on his record. She also took Keen on tour and sat down with him a few times to tell him where she was playing nationally, which helped him create his own map to play outside of Texas.

“She never did anything to ask for anything in return. It was always just out of her own generosity. I was so happy to be part of that,” Keen said. “She helped me in every way – in a musical sense, and just sort of making me feel more confident about who and what I was.”

Keen said he’s always had an ability to write specifically rhyming poetry, from the time he was 6 or 7 years old. When he started playing guitar, it was a perfect match.

“I could play this guitar and I can, you know, write these little poems or these little rhymes and make it into a song,” he said. “So, you know, I dabbled with that for a while, but by the time I got where I recorded things, I was really locked into the whole world of songwriting and making songs match the music. And that was something that came relatively easy for me.”

Keen has also never believed in following rules about what a song should be.

“I still, like, experiment with just whole different setups of songs, you know, not just a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus kind of thing. It would be like, full-blown songs that had no rhyme whatsoever. Or here’s a song that only works with the hook over and over that’d be more like a Dylan-esque sort of thing.”

Keen said that, in today’s country music landscape, the loss of great independent stations has led to a small number of decision-makers who put songs on the radio with very strict guidelines about what those songs say and how they sound.

robert earl keen last tour

“Thematically, what’s going on in country is just: ‘Here’s my truck; here’s my girl, and man, my girl is a queen. And that’s the best thing ever. And I love this town, and I love this state,'” he said. “It’s all about this sort of positive, not-exactly-truthful sort of theme that they’re presenting. But if you’re an artist and you’re a songwriter, if you’re not writing towards that, that will not get on the radio. So it’s too strict; the boundaries are too tight. And that’s why we’re hearing the same old stuff over and over.”

Had this been the case once upon a time, Keen’s not sure he’d have a career – but he says that, as it is, he wouldn’t have a career without non-commercial stations all over the U.S.

“And that’s because I was just truly an outlier. And that never did bother me; it all worked for me. And those stations still exist and there’s still that going on,” he said. “In Texas, what’s happened is, as far as I understand now, there’s a ton of radio stations that are playing exclusively Texas music. So it’s created its own market, and it’s working for all these guys. However, to get outside of that, as soon as you say that, you know, ‘I’m doing all this great stuff in Texas,’ they kind of start turning their head a little bit on you, and they kind of go, ‘Oh, yeah, right. That’s great to hear.’ You know, it’s not always a boon to say that you’re a part of the Texas movement, except for the fact that within this state they’ve created enough of a market where people really make a living and they can play, you know, to the end of time here in this state. Getting out of the state, I see a lot of them struggle. I mean, they’re doing better than they were. But it takes a lot of work to get out there.”

As longtime fans know, Texas plays a prominent role in Keen’s music. He says he has a great love for the state as it is, geographically and culturally.

“There is really no end to variety of people and topography in this state. And for a writer, you need not go any further than this,” he said. “Someone was asking me yesterday about why, if I went out all the time and went all over the United States and played, why did I always write about Texas? And my answer to that was, I always create a backdrop of Texas because it’s just in me. I like to start with the backdrop – some kind of airbrush painting almost of, you know, whatever place that I think of that I’ve been in the state – and then I put in characters and I make them start moving. Now, the characters can be from anywhere, but the the backdrops are always this state.”

The road crisscrossing Texas and beyond has ended for Keen. But how about the party?

“With me, absolutely not. The party will never end,” he said. “I’m not retired from playing shows. But the business of being on the road took up about 80% of my life. And that wasn’t just out there on the road – that was when I’d come home, that would be working towards the next tour or working towards the Christmas show way down the line. I just never had really any real life as far as for myself or for my family. I wanted to at least have, you know, where I’m still up and moving around, I still wanted to have that connection and make that the priority in my life.”

robert earl keen last tour

While he may no longer be touring, Keen’s got plenty of projects on the horizon, from his Americana Podcast: The 51st State to three records planned for release in the next year: a live album from his final show at Floore’s Country Store in Helotes, a stripped-down studio record of songs he loves, and the Western Chill album with his band, including a graphic novel and songbook – “it’s what I call my Hill Country multimedia project” – that has been in the works for a couple of years. And don’t forget about songwriting at his ranch in Kerrville.

“I’ll always write songs. I’m writing songs and I built this video studio in the last couple of years, and I will do some streaming here pretty soon. I have no lack of things that I’m doing nor I want to do,” Keen said. “Most of what I’m looking forward to is just getting back to, you know, sitting down and writing and not always doing things on the fly. Getting back to reading like I used to – I got where I just almost couldn’t even finish a book anymore. So I’m back to, you know, a stack of five books next to my bed now. And, you know, hanging out with my wife, which I really enjoy; we’ve been together for 36 years. It’s great to just not be on the run and not going, ‘see you later’ or ‘hi, how’s it going?’ and then, you know, be out the door. Just sitting and being is enough for me right now.”

And in announcing his intention to retire from touring eight months before his final show on the road – something he says he hasn’t seen anyone else do – Keen hopes he’s created a blueprint for fellow musicians to follow in the future.

“There’s a lot of them that really don’t know how to get out. And I feel like I’ve really created some kind of map to say, ‘you know, I can do this,'” he said. “The whole idea of going on for another eight months was to, you know, play to all your fans and not just disappear from the planet. And that was one of the things that I really feel like I achieved. And it was in an effort to, you know, help other people.”

Keen will continue to pay it forward – and is even toying with the idea of creating a kind of collective to help other artists.

“I feel that I should be able to turn around and help everybody. I have made every mistake anybody’s ever made. I have fought every fight that anyone could ever have,” he said. “And so I do have a great sense of where people are going right, and where they’re going wrong. You know, I’m not trying to change anybody’s life. I’m just saying that there are some real easy ways to fix some problems that people don’t even realize exist.

“You know, that’s my role in life. I mean, I think that’s everybody’s role in life. You get to a certain point, you can consider yourself an expert, guru, whatever you want to call yourself. But I think you turn around and help people. What else are you going to get out of this? Just a bunch of self-aggrandizement? I mean, that doesn’t help me. I don’t even like it when people are, like, overly complimentary. I think in terms of like, what should you do towards the end of your life to make it worthwhile? And I think that the thing to do is like help people in the same area or the same, you know, job description that you’ve been in all your life.”

To hear more from Robert Earl Keen, check out an extended interview in the audio player at the top of this story.

If you found the reporting above valuable, please consider making a donation to support it  here . Your gift helps pay for everything you find on  texasstandard.org  and  KUT.org . Thanks for donating today.

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Robert Earl Keen’s farewell tour to stop in Houston

The beloved singer-songwriter plans to retire from touring this year. he'll make one last stop in his hometown..

Singer/guitarist Robert Earl Keen (Photo by Jeff Hahne/Getty Images)

Back in January, Robert Earl Keen announced that a tour this year would be his last. The suggestion seemed like a joke at first: Keen has been a touring juggernaut for nearly 40 years, and while his brilliant story songs have found international audiences, Keen almost single-handedly built a model for songwriters to make a living with shows in Texas.

In a video post, he said:

"Much as I love what I do, it's more important that I do it well or not at all. I'm not sick or experiencing any existential crisis. I feel that making a decision and quitting the road while I still love it is the way I want to leave it. I've witnessed firsthand the alternative. And I promised myself I'd go out feeling all the love for music and performing the same way when I entered: with passion and enthusiasm."

Keen put venues on alert at that time, letting them know, this tour would be the last tour. And while dates popped up like daisies on his schedule, there wasn't one in his hometown of Houston. But today, the Robert Earl Keen’s World Tour of Texas: Texas Uprising announced a show in this market. Keen will play the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands on Aug. 20.

ROBERT EARL KEEN: A CAREER IN FOUR SONGS

Tickets for the show go on sale at 10 a.m. on June 10. Keen has urged fans to text REK22 to 877-350-1693 for updates. Other fans can find more info at the pavilion's site: www.woodlandscenter.org . 

Andrew Dansby covers culture and entertainment, both local and national, for the Houston Chronicle . He came to the Chronicle in 2004 from Rolling Stone, where he spent five years writing about music. He'd previously spent five years in book publishing, working with George R.R. Martin's editor on the first two books in the series that would become TV's "Game of Thrones. He misspent a year in the film industry, involved in three "major" motion pictures you've never seen. He's written for Rolling Stone, American Songwriter, Texas Music, Playboy and other publications.

Andrew dislikes monkeys, dolphins and the outdoors.

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The Austin Chronicle

Robert Earl Keen Takes a Final ACL Bow

Texas songwriting staple signs off with seventh taping, by doug freeman , 1:20pm, thu. apr. 28, 2022.

robert earl keen last tour

When Robert Earl Keen announced his intention in January to make this summer’s tour his final one, Austin City Limits quickly slotted in the iconic Texas songwriter for the show’s 48th Season. Both Keen and the crowd brought their best for the farewell bow.

robert earl keen last tour

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Robert Earl Keen , ACL , Austin City Limits , Bill Whitbeck , Tom Van Schaik , Lloyd Maines , Noah Jeffries

robert earl keen last tour

It Happened in Helotes: Robert Earl Keen Takes His Final Bow

Trigger Reviews American Aquarium , Bill Whitbeck , Brendon Anthony , Brian Beken , Cody Canada , Cody Canada and The Departed , Cross Canadian Ragweed , David B=ecks Tejano Weekend , Eric Church , Floore's Country Store , George Jones , James McMurtry , Jerry Jeff Walker , Noah Jeffries , Robert Earl Keen , Texas Music Office --> 29 Comments

robert earl keen last tour

They love to say that in Texas, the women are more beautiful, and the beer is colder. I’m not sure that can be scientifically proven. But there is something that is most certainly palpable—though in many ways indefinable—that does make the musical moments down in Texas feel significantly more meaningful for those who experience them. It’s how you see your favorite artists in historic settings where so many other greats played before. It’s the way you’re able to follow their careers from beginning to the end; they never get so big where they feel untouchable, and you always feel intimately involved. And since songwriting is so central to the music of Texas, the stories stick to your bones. This isn’t just entertainment. Sure, part of this is mythology. There are amazing performers and memorable moments to be had in music all over the world. But there’s no convincing a Texan of that, especially after they experience something like the very final live performance of one of their most favored songwriters and heroes. Robert Earl Keen has been delivering memorable moments in Texas and beyond for 41 years. Those memories and his music will last for well beyond 41 more. But Robert Earl Keen took his final bow on Sunday, September 4th among the live oak trees and close fans and friends in Helotes, Texas at the 80-year-old Floore’s Country Store, just north and west of San Antonio. It marked the end of an era in Texas music, country music, and American music. And though Floore’s has hosted many historic moments over the years, it didn’t feel like “just another one.” It was Robert Earl Keen’s. The first thing some may want to do is doubt Keen’s sincerity at calling it quits. Do we really expect him at age 66 to just ride off into the sunset? Sunday night’s performance was part of three final shows at Floore’s to cap off Keen’s incredible performing career. On Saturday Keen welcomed one his heroes to the stage, rodeo legend Phil Lyne, and told the story of Lyne’s retirement, and how he’d always wanted to emulate it. “When he quit rodeo, he was at the top of his game,” Keen said. “And then like Bobby Fischer—the world’s best chess player—he disappeared. And unlike Bobby Fischer, he never returned to challenge another, or challenge himself. I thought that was the coolest, dignified exit from anything a person could accomplish. I though that if I ever have a moment of clarity, like my rodeo hero, I promised myself, I would follow his lead.” Just like Saturday night at Floore’s, Sunday night started off with a speech, and a presentation. Texas musician and Director of the Texas Music Office, Brendon Anthony, was there to honor Robert Earl Keen, giving an excellent speech and presenting him with a proclamation from the State of Texas. And then Robert Earl Keen gave a speech himself, about his retirement, and how tough the final stretch of his final tour has been.

The Floore’s show Saturday night probably scored the best opening acts. Speaking of Texas songwriting legends, James McMurtry is right up there with the best of them, and though Eric Church doesn’t have any ties to Texas, it was cool to see someone of his magnitude come down to Texas to pay tribute ( see full recap of Saturday ). Sunday started with David Beck’s Tejano Weekend, with Cody Canada and the Departed following. Canada said he felt blessed and honored to be a part of closing out an important chapter of music, and told the story of how he fell in love with his wife at a Robert Earl Keen show in Oklahoma City in 1998. Canada started off with the song “17,” and he looks like he hasn’t aged a day since starting Cross Canadian Ragweed. The Departed only played Canada songs written before 2007. There was quite a pregnant pause before Robert Earl Keen took the stage. Technical difficulties meant his start was delayed until after 10:00 pm. They’d been playing American Aquarium music in between the sets, but right before Keen was supposed to take the stage, they appropriately piped in “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes” by George Jones. The long delay had some worried Robert’s final show might be truncated. But even if Floore’s was fined handsomely for breaking a sound curfew and the affluent neighbors flooded the town hall of Helotes with hate mail complaints, Robert Earl Keen was going to play every single song on his set list, tell every story needed telling before each song, and even took time for a solo acoustic set where he pulled out Jerry Jeff Walker’s guitar. It was an epic set that stretched all the way into Monday morning when at 12:32 p.m. Texas time, Robert Earl Keen took his final bow, and sauntered off stage for the last time.

An era in Texas music, country music, and American music has just come to a close. At 12:32 am Texas time, after an epic set of all the hits and then some, Robert Earl Keen took his final bow at Floore’s Country Store in Helotes. God bless Robert Earl Keen, and God bless Texas. pic.twitter.com/dgxmxOnHUn — Saving Country Music (@KyleCoroneos) September 5, 2022

Robert Earl Keen’s expressions say it all. He was elated and gratified as he stared out over the crowd showering him with adulation, reflective and a little sad as he began to turn away. And then as he began to walk off stage, he was incredibly relieved. Tired and bent from the toil of 41 years, but fulfilled. These final shows at Floore’s were not just the last few in a succession of them on a farewell tour. Robert Earl Keen’s band was bolstered with extra players, most notably Texas music legend Lloyd Maines, known for his incredible steel guitar work, and producing some of the state’s most legendary country records. Though most of the time Maines just offered a bit of padding beneath the songs (Keen doesn’t really include a ton of steel guitar in his music), when it came Lloyd’s time to take a solo during “The Road Goes On Forever,” it made your hair stand on end. Multi-instrumentalist Brian Beken is also an absolute beast on lead guitar, fiddle, and mandolin. Acoustic guitarist Noah Jeffries also stood out on some spectacular solos. And don’t worry, cameras and microphones were everywhere, and the set was being recorded in every which way for posterity, and likely, future release. Keen picked Floore’s Country Store for the significance, but also since he’d recorded live projects there before. Similar to witnessing the Turnpike Troubadours reuniting in Tulsa at the historic Cain’s Ballroom earlier this year, words will always fail to describe the gravity of the moments experienced at an event like this. Everyone who attended one of Robert Earl Keen’s final shows felt this in some measure, and the patron’s at the first two Floore’s shows felt it especially. But there is something about witnessing the final of anything that makes moments rise from memorable to historic. Tears were shed, and history was made. Just as some marvel at the Floore’s stage and all the greats who played on it in the past, so too will patrons and performers look at that stage, remember where Robert Earl Keen took his final bow, and be awed. Because that’s music in Texas. – – – – – – – – – –

All photos Kyle “Trigger” Coroneos

robert earl keen last tour

American Aquarium , Bill Whitbeck , Brendon Anthony , Brian Beken , Cody Canada , Cody Canada and The Departed , Cross Canadian Ragweed , David B=ecks Tejano Weekend , Eric Church , Floore's Country Store , George Jones , James McMurtry , Jerry Jeff Walker , Noah Jeffries , Robert Earl Keen , Texas Music Office

29 Comments

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Well, purty good ya’ll, Trigger!

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I knew Cody was a very respectful admirer of Dierks Bentley already, based on some performance commentary from him that I heard at a private concert in the early 2000’s, but naming his son after him puts that respect on a whole other level. The crowd started up with the requisite booing of a pop country star when his name was mentioned, but Cody put the kibosh on that real quick.

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Booing Dierks Bentley says more about the booers than him. Tools.

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Dierks has always been one of the good guys of mainstream country, even when his music is bad. At the Telluride Bluegrass Festival earlier this year, it started raining right as Molly Tuttle took the stage. A lot of the VIPs scattered out of the front rows, but Dierks plopped down right in front to show his support in the rain. He didn’t know I was lurking around with a camera to capture it. It was just Dierks being Dierks.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Ce7bXr1sMBD/

I am constantly envious of your job, Trig.

' data-tf-not-load src=

Yeah, while I’m muddling around in some small town county in Tennessee’s probate court administering an estate, Trig’s on a plane to some cool event hanging out with the artists and then writing erudite summaries of the shows.

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I don’t want to promote another website on SCM, but there is a recent interview with Cody Canada on Whiskey Riff where he talks his relationship with Dierks Bentley. Cody tells a funny story about Dierks wanting to release his bluegrass record but his record label didn’t want to. Dierks persisted and his label relinquished but he told Cody not to listen to his next few country albums, lol, apparently Dierks had to give in to the record company to get his bluegrass record.

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I wish his label would give him more freedom to record what he wants. Dude is talented.

Dierks Canada is a stud guitar player.

I’m digging his PRS. That custom 24 looks sick.

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Bobby Fischer is probably not the best example to use of somebody retiring at the top of his game. Fischer became increasingly nasty, paranoid and possibly had other psychiatric conditions. Fischer won the chess championship from Boris Spassky in 1972, in a match that Fischer threatened to walk out of if his increasingly bizarre conditions (about where cameras should be placed and where specators and others should be seated) were not met, but the match was finally completed–probably because the affable Spassky acceded to Fischer’s demands.

In 1975, Fishcer was to defend the championship against Karpov, but he again made a slew of demands that would have given him an advantage. Fischer did not say that he was retiring. But the International Chess Federation finally had enough with him and they awarded the title to Karpov on a forfeit.

It was a shame because Fischer was such a great player that he did not need any advantages. But he became such an a-hole that not even the American chess body objected when the International federation forfeited him

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Robert earl keen is a living legend. I’ve seen him play more time than all other concerts combined and he kept me sane when country music was flushing itself down the toilet. I’m glad to see him go out with a bang. And on his terms. You will be missed buddy. Enjoy retirement!

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Any past band members show up? Rich Brotherton? Marty Mewes?

I was really surprised that we didn’t see past members of the band get up there and perform, we didn’t see other artists like Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle, or someone like that show up and sing a song with him. I really didn’t see many artists in the crowd either, except for Cody Canada and his crew. The biggest “celebrity” there was Storme Warren, and that’s not saying much.

Apparently there is some sort of meet-and-greet party today for close friends, contest winners, and long-time devoted fans, and there may be more of these kinds of folks there.

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My wife was able to get a set list of both EC and REK from the Saturday night show. We sat at the country club and listened Sunday. Great weekend

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I really wish you could have been there for the Monday show. It was incredible but I agree, I found it odd that Lyle and others weren’t there.

I’m really surprised and a little frustrated how this went down. I was invited to attend Monday, but the way it was couched to me was that it was just going to be an intimate and informal party for some of the most dedicated fans and a few contest winners, with maybe one or two artists showing up. I had no idea there were going to be performances, big singalongs, etc. If I had known that, I would have been there. I didn’t want to be the leering press guy wallflowering in the corner while artists hobnobbed with each other. Instead, it was like a continuation of the final show.

I had no idea what it was going to be like either. I stayed around town on Monday and was able to make my way in to the show. The last 4 mins was entirely worth it.

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Phil Lyne is J. B. Mauney’s father-in-law. Old school stuff all the way.

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I’m glad he went out with such a special night — he surely deserved it. Thanks for the photos, too. I look forward to this album coming out.

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I don’t really know much about Robert Earl Keen or the Texas music scene other than what I read here. His jacket is pretty cool though. Is that a game rooster or is that just a regular rooster? Does it have any significance?

@ Justin–The only song mentioning a rooster that REK has sung that I know of is from his second album, released in 1989. It’s a now-obscure cover of a Bobby Bare song called “Don’t Turn Out the Light,” from Bare’s 1977 album called “Me and McDill” (which consisted of songs written by Bob McDill). Robert’s version was fine, but it can’t come close to Bobby’s masterful vocal! There’s probably a more obvious connection between REK and roosters that I don’t know of.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8HIiMb_XdM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9CPQN3eJS9M

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Hey there! My name is O’Neal. I’m the maker behind Strange Ranger Customs. I made his jacket and lots of his posters and some of his merch have roosters on them. He simply likes the look and idea of a rooster. Cool animal for the coolest dude!

Thanks ONeal for the reply!

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Been attending concerts for a lot of years. Keen’s Christmas shows ranks #2 (Paul Simon’s Rhythm of the Saints #1). The audience enthusiasm during those shows was something to behold. Made it a special memory that’s for sure.

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Been going to REK concerts for a long time. Got to see him once again on his farewell tour.

I was under the impression though, that while he’s retiring from touring, he might still show up at one off concert deal here and there, like a benefit show or something. That wouldn’t mean he would be reneging on his promise of retiring from touring. I think he’s earned the right to pick and choose when and where he wants to play occasionally without being accused of the ‘fake farewell tour’.

Thanks for all the memories, REK. May your road go on forever…

This is excellent, and reverent, reportage on the retirement of my favorite musician.

I was able to catch 4 shows this summer and I’m so grateful I was able to do so.

I hope that Robert can get some well-deserved rest and family time.

He has sure given me many years of joy.

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Thankful I got to see him so be last time at Billy Bob’s on Aug25, especially after the lackluster show I saw at Will Rogers in June. Billy Bob’s isn’t a great venue, but couldn’t make it to Helotes. Interesting to see him playing a Martin (cutaway!?!?!?) at his last show instead of his Collings though. Thank you very much for the awesome pics Trigger. The set list seems the same and the JJW and Guy Clark nods were a nice touch. Enjoy retirement REK, hope to see you around Kerrville one of these days!

I believe that was Jerry Jeff Walker’s guitar, and he was playing it for the memory.

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Robert Earl Keen  

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Hailing from Houston, Texas, US, Robert Earl Keen Jr. (born January 11th, 1956) came to fame in the 80s and 90s through his country-tinged americana music that displayed a talent for penning honest, poetic songs.

Born to an oil executive father and an attorney mother, Keen was exposed to their love of folk and country, to which he would later blend when constructing his own style. It was quite late by the time Keen started to learn the guitar, waiting until he had started attending Texas A&M University, although he was a keen writer of poetry all throughout high school.

He recorded his self-financed debut album, "No Kinda Dancer," in 1984, which made a splash on the Austin, US, music scene. He moved to Nashville shortly after, mixing with the likes of Lyle Lovett and K.D. Lang, who had begun to create top ten country hits. Soon he returned back to Texas, finding inspiration there for his second album, "West Textures," which contained the crime-spree tale, "The Road Goes on Forever," becoming one of Keen's signature songs. Signed to Sugar Hill Records, he waited until 1993 to follow this release, with 1993's "A Bigger Piece of Sky," containing the hit song "Corpus Christi Bay." "Gringo Honeymoon" followed a year later, which featured the guitar talents of Gurf Morfix.

Keen continued to grow in popularity release after release, with a relentless touring schedule that would often see him attend over 200 dates a year bolstering his presence on the country music scene. In 2001, he gained his biggest chart success with "Gravitational Forces," which reached number 10 on the US Country Charts and number one on the US Heat charts. His subsequent albums continued to fair well in the country charts, all being in the top 40. Keen also helped coordinate the annual Texas Uprising festival, which took place in several venues in the state, acting as a talent festival for up-and-coming artists.

Live reviews

We are all so happy that Robert Earl Keen and the Robert Earl Keen Band put on four shows for us over here in South Florida.

We were able to make two of the four shows.

The first one was the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall south of Jacksonville near the beach.

The venue was incredible, a renovated church.

We drove up from West Palm Beach a very scary drive on I-295 about gave us a heart attack!

Robert even mentioned that the roads were trying his nerves. But we all made it safe.

The crowd at the show was such a fun crowd. All die hard REK fans. Very lively ans excited for the show. They never stopped clapping, dancing and singing.

One of the things we were very impressed with was the opening act was a local artist that was given the opportunity to play three songs before the main act. The act of offering opportunity to fellow local musicians says a lot about Robert Earl Keen and his management.

The Pre-Show song that was played was also a hats off to South Floridians. John Andersons song "Seminole Wind" was a nice surprise for us and shows empathy and understanding of the people and places the band visits.

We saw the Christmas show "Merry Christmas to the Fam-o-Lee" in December in Nashville at the Ryman so we had no expectations of this show at all. We knew it was going to be a completely different type of concert.

When the band took the stage opened with "Shades of Gray" the crowd was on their feet immediately. The set included many of the fan favorites as well as a few surprises. My favorite was "Hot Corn Cold Corn" featured on the new release Flores Country Store double CD.

Robert also did a solo three song mini set of quick songs somewhat like John Prine would do.

As usual the band played to perfection. Robert was able to control the crowd with ease as they were a bit rowdy and having fun. We never left our seats and it was such a blast. The Mandolin, Violin (Fiddle), Tom Brotherton on guitar always blows us away. All I could envision was the mandolin played dressed up as Johnny Paycheck at the Ryman! I think he dressed up as a lot of artists at that show. Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Billy Bird, I think? I digress.

Next was the show at The Parker Playhouse in Ft. Lauderdale three days later. This venue was also small and very intimate. We nailed front row seats so it was a completely different experience. Again there was a duo that opened from the Hollywood, West Palm Beach area. they were fabulous. Again, the John Anderson song.

This concert was COMPLETELY different. It was so refreshing. The show had the same core elements but Tom Brotherton threw in a Grateful Dead song that he nailed and Robert sang Tangled up in Blue by Bob Dylan that just was pure perfection. The band added some different songs to the set we had seen a few days before, mixed it up. That is rarely seen these days.I don't know how Robert remembers all of those words to those songs! We danced a lot obnoxiously right there up front! the crowd was more subdued than the crowd in Jacksonville. But, REK has a huge fan base here in Florida and I hope he comes back again!

Hope to go to the Songwriters Festival in Key West if possible.

We will be tracking the band and will be at another concert if they come through Ithaca, New York, Nashville or Florida. We just can't make the Franklin, Tenn. shows. Next year!

Nancy Branstrom

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The night was perfect, the stage was set for two guys in two chairs, two guitars. The great friends came out & talked & sang to us like we were in their living room. They played off each perfectly. We scored front row at a perfect event venue. Both artists were funny, professional & entertaining. We LOVED the show. We loved it so much that we went to Ft Myers & caught them at The Edison Theater the next night. It was a completely different show aside from the perfectly delivered story of Robert Earl Keen & his landlord & how he made time for a man many did not see all that he had to share. It was incredibly honorable of Mr. Keen. This rented home at College Station was where the Front Porch Song was created. Lyle Lovett was very humble in that REK put verses he wrote into the song. Great verses they are!

We try never to miss Robert Earl Keen & the Robert Earl Keen Band when he comes over to Florida. Our first time seeing Lyle & he was awesome. Wish we could have been able to speak with them.

Nancy & JB Branstrom

Texas born Robert Earl Keen Jr is an all American country singer from everything to his name to his style. He is a quintessential country crooner with a great set of country vocals and some pretty hefty guitar skills. He is great at blending country and folk with interesting, poetic and very honest, American lyrics. There is a real sense of nostalgia about this guy, no doubt because he achieved the majority of his success during the 80s and 90s, and thus his songs sound quite out dated. However, they are also incredibly easy to listen to and have an old world feeling to them that can really be appreciated. Tracks such as ‘The Road Goes on Forever’ and ‘Corpus Christi Bay’ have a melancholy feeling to them that adds another dimension to his music and makes them quite emotive. The lyrics are moving if you pay attention to them and it is the brutal honesty of his music that makes it so appealing and that had allowed him to achieve such wonderful success over the years.

sabraziz’s profile image

How about Robert Earl Keen Jr.? This guy can sing! He can write too. He has eighteen albums under his belt. I can’t even begin to imagine how one would go about constructing a set list from that amount of material.

IT was because of the influence of his older brother, that he got introduced to country artists such as Willie Nelson.

He built his career up playing in pubs and clubs around Austin Texas, building up a following over the years. He wound up moving to Nashville, as all country artists seem to do so, signing with Arista Records. “That Buckin’ Song” showcases his fantastic guitar ability alongside his band who he has such a good back and forth with. “Hello New Orleans” is the next song that has a little bit more depth, bringing a little bit more of a deep-south vibe to the table. The audience are ecstatic about the genius that they are witnessing. “The Great Hank” is a fantastic set closer, leaving the audience applauding for a good five minutes.

Lannistaar’s profile image

Great show. Enjoyed the conversations he had before a few of the songs, story about Lyle Lovett esp. He didn't use the playlist i would have chosen--it didn't include a lot of my favorites like No Kinda Dancer, Ride, I Gotta Go. But then, it is his show. And he has so many songs, he cant include the favorites of everyone in the crowd. I was surprised that the encore did not include Merry Christmas. I have been to 3 shows now, and I thought that was "mandatory" to include it. But, as I observed, it is his show. I will see him again.

keith-jones-21’s profile image

Acoustic show with Robert Earl Keen & Lyle Lovett was aweseme - as expected. The natural "banter" between these two long-time friends is authentic and makes for a unique experience. It's highly unusual for artists in this day & age to simply play songs requested by the audience 'on the fly' in the middle of their sets. These two do not disappoint and highly recommend if you haven't seen them together that you make a point of doing so!

TurtleTommy’s profile image

Damn! What a great show these two put on! Ive seen Robert Earl Keen probably 8-10 times but I've never seen Lyle Lovette before

I love REK and liked Lyle a lot but after this show I love 'em both! Never realized how funny Lyle is and you can tell these two really get along well. Can't wait to see them again together or on their own!!!

lupdawg72’s profile image

Truly awesome show. To have Robert Earl and Lyle Lovett on the same stage for the whole performance was a night to remember. They complimented each other so we'll. To hear both sing and then they would take turns doing my favorite songs. I truly loved every minute. thanks

michael-whited’s profile image

Great show, great music great place to listen to music. Robert Earl Keen was awesome. Such a variety of instruments on stage! Roberts voice was as good as it was twenty years ago!

njones59’s profile image

Robert Earl loves his fans and we love him. I enjoy every show.I'm a fan for life. I laughed, cried, and smiled. His shows touch my heart. I gotta go.

Mike Jones, Aiken SC

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Eric Church To Open For Robert Earl Keen At One Of His Last Shows On Farewell Tour At Floore’s Country Store In Texas

robert earl keen last tour

Now this is a show you don’t wanna miss.

Eric Church took to Instagram today in a rare post straight from the man himself to announce that he’ll be opening up for one of his musical heroes, Robert Earl Keen, in September at Floore’s Country Store in Helotes, Texas.

Texas-born country and bluegrass legend Robert Earl Keen is currently on a farewell tour that’s set to end in  September 2022, as he announced earlier this year that he would be retiring after the tour ends.

He plans to do private shows from time to time, but mostly wants to take time to write and focus more on his Americana podcast.

Eric noted in the post that Robert has been a huge influence on his music over the years, and that he actually used to cover his 1993 “Corpus Christi Bay” all the time with his bar band in college, The Mountain Boys.

So needless to say, Eric is pumped to be able to open for him at such a a great venue, and if you’re lucky enough to be in attendance, I’m sure it will be nothing short of incredible:

“Robert Earl Keen Jr. has been a huge influence on my music and writing. We used to cover Corpus Christi Bay in my bar band in North Carolina in college.

When he asked me to join him on the last shows of his career, I told him I’d do whatever he wanted. I’m happy to join him at Floore’s to help send him off into the sunset.

But don’t forget friends…. The road goes on forever and the party never ends.”

The show with Eric is set for September 3rd:

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Eric Church (@ericchurchmusic)

And since it’s one of Chief’s favorite’s, it felt right to cue this one up:

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IMAGES

  1. Bus Fires, Voodoo Candles: Inside Robert Earl Keen’s Epic Final Tour

    robert earl keen last tour

  2. Behind the Scenes at Robert Earl Keen’s Final Show

    robert earl keen last tour

  3. Robert Earl Keen Begins Ride Into the Texas Sunset With One Last Tour

    robert earl keen last tour

  4. Houston's Robert Earl Keen returns after a troubled farewell tour

    robert earl keen last tour

  5. Bus Fires, Voodoo Candles: Inside Robert Earl Keen’s Epic Final Tour

    robert earl keen last tour

  6. Robert Earl Keen Celebrates 41 Years On The Road With Farewell Tour

    robert earl keen last tour

COMMENTS

  1. Robert Earl Keen Plays His Final Concert: Review

    September 5, 2022 Robert Earl Keen retired from the stage with one final show in Texas on Sunday night. Alison Lundy* It is difficult to envision the moment playing out any other way....

  2. Robert Earl Keen on Retirement From Touring, New Album

    For Robert Earl Keen, the road now goes on until September, when the Texas cult legend will conclude four decades of touring with a final run of shows at Floore's Country Store in Helotes,...

  3. Robert Earl Keen Announces His Retirement

    January 14, 2022 Robert Earl Keen onstage in Kentucky in 2021. The songwriter says he's done with touring as of September. Erika Goldring/WireImage/Getty Robert Earl Keen says that...

  4. Tour

    Feb 13 San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo San Antonio, Texas Info Tickets May 10 Whitewater Music Amphitheater New Braunfels, TX Info Tickets May 11 Whitewater Music Amphitheater New Braunfels, TX Info Tickets The latest Robert Earl Keen tour dates, appearance and ticket purchase links

  5. Bus Fires, Voodoo Candles: Inside Robert Earl Keen's Epic Final Tour

    December 2022 5 Robert Earl Keen was coming home. The Houston-born songwriter was unwinding in the back of his tour bus as it barreled west through Louisiana in the predawn dark of an...

  6. The Road Ends: Robert Earl Keen Announces Retirement from Touring

    Robert Earl Keen says he will play shows up to September 4th, 2022, and his final tour will be capped off by a succession of shows at Floore's Country Store in Helotes, TX. More details when they are available. © 2023 Saving Country Music 14 Lyle Lovett, Randy Rogers, Robert Earl Keen, The Stryker Brothers

  7. Behind the Scenes at Robert Earl Keen's Final Show

    Robert Earl Keen walks offstage after his second-to-last show at John T. Floore's Country Store, in Helotes, on September 3, 2022. Photograph by Tamir Kalifa Over Labor Day weekend,...

  8. Houston's Robert Earl Keen returns after a troubled farewell tour

    Texas singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen performs his final show Sunday night at Floores Country Store in Helotes. A sold-out crowd of about 3000 people were on hand. Robin Jerstad By Andrew...

  9. Robert Earl Keen's melancholy but raucous farewell tour

    July 24, 2022 at 1:14 p.m. EDT Robert Earl Keen has said he will stop touring after this summer. (Melanie Nashan) Partying can be such sweet sorrow. Robert Earl Keen's Friday show at...

  10. Robert Earl Keen reflects on retiring from touring after 41 years

    In a speech last month at his final tour stop in Helotes, after being presented with a proclamation from the Texas Music Office, Keen noted that Nanci Griffith had been a mentor to him. ... To hear more from Robert Earl Keen, check out an extended interview in the audio player at the top of this story. If you found the reporting above valuable ...

  11. Robert Earl Keen announces he's retiring from touring, performing

    — Robert Earl Keen (@robertearlkeen) January 14, 2022 He said their last two or three shows will be at Flores Country Store in Helotes, Texas and they'll throw a fan-appreciation party on Labor ...

  12. Robert Earl Keen's farewell tour to stop in Houston

    Andrew Dansby May 24, 2022 Updated: May 26, 2022, 9:56 am Singer/guitarist Robert Earl Keen (Photo by Jeff Hahne/Getty Images) Photo: Jeff Hahne/Getty Images Back in January, Robert Earl...

  13. Robert Earl Keen Takes a Final ACL Bow

    When Robert Earl Keen announced his intention in January to make this summer's tour his final one, Austin City Limits quickly slotted in the iconic Texas songwriter for the show's 48th Season ...

  14. It Happened in Helotes: Robert Earl Keen Takes His Final Bow

    But Robert Earl Keen took his final bow on Sunday, September 4th among the live oak trees and close fans and friends in Helotes, Texas at the 80-year-old Floore's Country Store, just north and west of San Antonio. It marked the end of an era in Texas music, country music, and American music.

  15. Robert Earl Keen Tickets, 2024 Concert Tour Dates

    2/13/24, 7:00 PM San Antonio, TX Frost Bank Center San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo Followed By Robert Earl Keen Find tickets 2/13/24, 7:00 PM Download the Ticketmaster App Be notified early about exclusive access to presales. Promoted Learn More Advertisement About "The road goes on forever ..."

  16. Robert Earl Keen

    Americana Podcast: 4th Anniversary Live Episode Read More Rolling Stone: Robert Earl Keen Is…Making Graphic Novels and Teaching College? Read More No Depression: Robert Earl Keen Follows a Laidback Trail on 'Western Chill' Read More Robert Earl Keen is one of our generation's most prolific songwriters.

  17. Retired from Performing, Robert Earl Keen Keeps On Moving

    For more than three decades now, Robert Earl Keen has been promising us that "the road goes on forever, and the party never ends.". It turns out, though, that the road doesn't go on forever, and the party eventually ends. On March 15, 2022, Keen released a public statement: "It's with a mysterious concoction of joy and sadness that I ...

  18. Robert Earl Keen Tickets, Tour Dates & Concerts 2025 & 2024

    Track artist On tour Nearest concert to you Chase City, VA, US Change Sep 20 Alexandria, VA, US Birchmere Upcoming concerts (2) Sep 20 Alexandria, VA, US Birchmere Sep 21 Alexandria, VA, US Birchmere Similar artists with upcoming concerts Marty Stuart Sat 27 Jan 2024 John and Alice Butler Hall Dubuque, IA, US Chris Knight

  19. Rolling Stone: The Road Goes on Till September: Robert Earl Keen Talks

    Robert Earl Keen was in his tour bus, riding down the interstate from D.C. to Charlotte in the early morning hours of Dec. 7, 2021, when he realized it was time to come to terms with a major life change. ... For Robert Earl Keen, the road now goes on until September, when the Texas cult legend will conclude four decades of touring with a final ...

  20. Robert Earl Keen Concert History

    Latest Videos View All Videos

  21. News

    ROBERT EARL KEEN officially retired from touring in late 2022, but he's still busy creating music. The Texas singer-songwriter will release his new album Western Chill via his own Scriptorium Rex label on April 14, with a whole batch of extra goodies to accompany it. Published by: Rolling Stone, Written by: Jon Freeman Full Article HERE

  22. Eric Church To Open For Robert Earl Keen At One Of His Last Shows On

    Texas-born country and bluegrass legend Robert Earl Keen is currently on a farewell tour that's set to end in September 2022, as he announced earlier this year that he would be retiring after the tour ends. He plans to do private shows from time to time, but mostly wants to take time to write and focus more on his Americana podcast.

  23. Tour

    The latest Robert Earl Keen tour dates, appearance and ticket purchase links