LIVE REVIEW: REK at the State Room in Salt Lake City

A friend told Robert Earl Keen he needed to write more drinking songs. "All my songs are drinking songs," Keen told the sell-out crowd at The State Room Thursday night. The audience obviously agreed.

They were overwhelmingly male, a mix of young and old, and a combination of drunk and really drunk. And they knew every word that came out of the Texas singer-songwriter's mouth and were happy to sing along.

The always-dapper Keen came onstage with his six bandmates decked out in a suit coat, tie and cowboy boots. There was not much banter from the stage, but he did make mention of his recent gig at Red Butte, as the opening act for Ricky Skaggs, Ry Cooder and Sharon White when he said dryly, “We were here about a month ago… We’ve been everywhere since then, Price, Ogden, Deer Valley. That was a pretty good trip.”

In theme with their newest album The Happy Prisoner the band played some bluegrass standards, covering greats Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs and others.

But, both the band and fans seemed most at home when Keen played his own tunes. “Feelin’ Good Again” was met with enthusiasm from the crowd, especially when he got to the lyrics: “The boys from Silver City were standin' by the fire, Singin' like they thought they were the Tabernacle choir.” (One has to imagine that line doesn’t get that kind of a reception in other places.)

The die-hard fans joined in, singing along to “Gringo Honeymoon," “I Gotta Go," “Corpus Christi Bay," and "I’m Coming Home.” When he closed the set with “The Road Goes On Forever,” rowdy fans raised their glasses and pointed fingers at the stage in salute.

At times Keen seemed a little smug and annoyed at the requests being shouted at him. But he and his incredible band soldiered on.

Each song, it seemed, had space carved out for his bandmates to shine, sometimes it was the mandolin, sometimes it was the dobro or the lead guitar, upright bass, and fiddle. Even, as Keen said, “The world’s only bluegrass drummer,” got a shot. Standouts were Mandolin player Kym Warner and Rich Brotherton on guitar who seemed to shine the brightest.

Robert Earl Keen’s fans have long been called cult-like in their devotion. Even after a 17 song set the audience had not quite had enough and cheered wildly until they brought their dear leader back on stage for two encores.

Perhaps he hit on his secret to success when he told the story of trying to convince a laundry owner to stay open after hours. Keen said it's America, and he had money, this record and "a winning personality." It worked then and, whatever the formula, it worked again Thursday night.

Read the full story at Salt Lake Magazine.