REK - The Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh

"A party is greatly influenced by its host. That host can put in a lot of work to make the party a success for everyone in attendance, or the host can waltz into their room full of revelers - effortlessly apply a few choice jokes, stories, and songs - and just like that, that host has created a party atmosphere that will go down in the history books as one of the best ever. And thank God that history book exists because otherwise many of us wouldn't remember the great time we had. As the host of the party that "never ends," Robert Earl Keen puts together a ready-made celebration wherever he goes, and this past Thursday night he brought his traveling fiesta to the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh.

REK in Raleigh

The party, the fans, the devotees, the invited, the anointed - resembled a mix of young and old, male and female, former bikers, cowboys, and golf pros all co-mingling and partying to honor one of their favorite musical hosts. Two-fisted drinkers maneuvered their way as close to the front of the stage as possible. The smell of beer, cigarettes, and weed conversed with the air as all assembled patiently for the host to begin the festivities. Lighting his own way on to the stage with a bright white stoner smile, Keen greeted the packed Lincoln Theatre crowd like a neighbor firmly planted on his front porch. Instead of shaking his fist and telling the crowd to get off his lawn, Robert Earl picked up his guitar, introduced his stellar band, and launched into Feelin' Good Again. And his smile grew bigger and brighter as the good feeling spread throughout the crowd.

Songwriting is an art. A truly great song transcends pen and paper to become sculpture, canvas, and acrylic. Great songs are letters, historical documents, and diaries. Robert Earl Keen has many great songs that color images onto the mind's canvas with steel string paints, and southern-drawl brush strokes. The story-telling element of his songs is so large that it matches the size of his home state of Texas and mirrors the heart and history of its surrounding areas. Gringo Honeymoon is not a simple description of a couple's journey, it is the score and soundtrack for the cinematic images that Keen has playing in the drive-in of your brain. The listener sees the growing cactus flowers, and hears Marty Robbins' voice. I'm Comin' Home is a love letter home to the long distance love who is constantly on the mind of the traveling musician. It serves as a diary, or a list of all the things they need to talk about when they are back to occupying the same space. He recognizes that it is all of the mundane simple daily details that they, as a couple, miss from their daily lives that are just as important as the beautiful romantic ones. In between his works of art, Keen shares stories and jokes that are relaxed and natural. There's no weird predicted punchline, it all goes with this party host having a conversation with his party patrons.

These great songs, stories, and jokes were brought to life Thursday night as the Keen faithful danced, tipped their hats to salute their host, and shouted for more. As someone that has been traveling from stage to stage for many years, Robert Earl puts together a seamless set that never allowed the crowd to get restless and complacent, hollering out a bunch of slurred requests. By the time the closing notes of one favorite song settled, the smoke and fire of another began to smolder. A large part of this fervent energy stemmed from a band that complimented and enhanced Keen's laid back approach and gave it an extra kick in the ass. (Particularly on the crowd favorite, Five Pound Bass).

Robert Earl Keen knows, as every great party host should, how to share the spotlight with those in attendance. He knows his crowd have devoted their time to memorizing his songs. They are going to sing along with him in unison the whole night. He gives them opportunities to belt out his humorous subject matter. They share his same view of life. The understanding that things will get tricky and difficult, but it is best to view the lighter side of it all, dust yourself off, and move on. French girlfriends will leave you, other girlfriends will accidentally swallow your "chew juice," and during the holidays, relatives will talk all about AA. But all in all, the collective understanding is the same . . . the Road Goes on Forever and the party never ends."

—Chris Dunbar, RaleighMusic.com 

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