Front porch at the Majestic

Front porch at the Majestic

A rowdy hangout for aspiring musicians on the front porch of a house a half-block from Texas A&M in the late 1970s not only kindled a signature song but it also sparked a lifelong friendship for Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett.

It was there that they wrote “The Front Porch Song,” which blends metaphors of Texas with a personal experience, much like they will do at “An Acoustic Evening With Lyle Lovett & Robert Earl Keen” Friday in the Majestic Theatre.

The porch and the house are long gone, replaced by a parking lot. “It's truly like that Joni Mitchell song ('Big Yellow Taxi') where they paved paradise,” Keen said.

But the porch's spirit and what it represented to Keen and Lovett will come to life at the acoustic show, which they talked about doing for years before they performed four shows in February after finally forcing their busy schedules to align.

“They really, really were great. I just had a ball,” said Keen, who was eager to do more.

“It's not that much different than when we were sitting on that porch,” he said. “It's just a couple of guys hanging out, playing songs and shooting the (bleep). And it works really well. The magic is that after all these years we're really good friends and have a good connection.”

The surprising thing is that onstage they actually are old friends who haven't seen each other in a long time. While they stayed in contact over the years, their careers kept them from being close. They don't really even hang out back stage.

“We walk out on stage and it's like, how's it going and we start catching up. It's kind of odd to have to visit with your friend onstage,” Keen said. “We just sit on the stage and he plays a song, we talk about it or talk about something, then I play a song and tell a few jokes or stories “Lyle's done it for years with John Hiatt, Joe Ely and Guy Clark. He's really a good storyteller and entertainer. He's created this great moderator sort of thing, talking and asking a lot of questions.

“It's interesting to hear how some of the songs evolved. Lyle has a rich history in love songs and songs directed at a particular person. So I'll ask, 'Now, which girl is that song about?'”

“I admire his songwriting greatly,” Lovett said about Keen in an article in the Bryan-College Station Eagle. “Every time I hear one of Robert's new songs, I always think the same thing: 'Man, I wish I had written that.'

“I guess what's interesting to me in hearing his songs is I know him so well personally. ... I find it interesting to be able to connect the dots from what I know personally about Robert and see farther into his work.

“He's just a very insightful, thoughtful and perceptive person, and you get that from spending five minutes with him.”

Keen, A&M class of 1978, and Lovett, class of 1979, met when Lovett stopped his 10-speed bike in front of the house on Church Avenue and they struck up a conversation. While most of their friends went home for the summer, they stayed in school and shared a few classes.

“Then we hung out playing songs at his house and drinking volumes of coffee or at my house drinking volumes of beer,” Keen said.

They competed in class and in songwriting.

“Lyle was a good prose writer and I wasn't. I was always trying to find academic gold in an essay,” Keen said. “Lyle was more free form and colorful. He'd get an A and I'd get a B, and we'd spend hours in discussion about that.

“My relationship with Lyle was advantageous,” Keen said. “He turned me on to who would be considered great singer-songwriters.”

In a small way, Keen said, their friendship was similar to romantic poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge and novelists Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

“There's always some competition with a good, healthy relationship,” Keen said.

Keen went on to become one of the founding fathers of Texas Music, a blend of country, rock and freewheeling lyrics that eschew the corporate Nashville music machine.

Last month, Keen became the first inductee into the Lone Star Hall of Fame.

Lovett, known for an eclectic mix of country, swing, pop, blues, jazz and multilayered lyrics, went on to win four Grammys.

Keen and Lovett were inducted last year into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Association Hall of Fame.

By: John Goodspeed, For the Express-News
Read the full article here.