Robert Earl Keen is showcasing his roots


Robert Earl Keen is showcasing his roots

Robert Earl Keen is showcasing his roots

Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen (photo provided)

TROY — One of Robert Earl Keen’s most famous songs is “The Road Goes On Forever.”

The road Keen travels carries him and his long-time friend, Lyle Lovett, to the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall Thursday, Sept. 29, for the first stop on a new tour where the two Texans perform their songs together and tell the stories behind them.

It’s the first time Keen and Lovett have done an entire tour together. Speaking to Spotlight News by phone last week, Keen said they had done a few shows here and there before deciding to hit the road for their first extended tour.

“We’ve been friends since 1976,” said Keen, who turned 60 earlier this year. “In a way, we just grew up together in the music business.”

The format is similar to other recent tours Lovett has had with artists such as John Hiatt and Joe Ely. Armed with only their acoustic guitars and their voices, Keen and Lovett will back each other and swap stories.

“What they (the audience) can expect, and what I personally love as a songwriter, is the core of the song — how it originally sounded when it was first written,” said Keen.

Keen has been busy over the last year. He released “Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions” — an album of his favorite bluegrass songs — in 2015 that reached No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s bluegrass album charts for three weeks. He was the first recipient of BMI’s Troubadour Award, which honors songwriters who have written music full of passion and untamed creativity without thinking about ratings or topping charts. And he is about to release “Live Dinner Reunion,” a 20th-anniversary celebration of his first live album “No. 2 Live Dinner” recorded at the John T. Floores Country Store in Helotes, Texas, with artists such as Lovett, Ely and Bruce Robison joining him.

“The plan wasn’t to record the show, at first,” said Keen. “It wasn’t until the week before the show — when I started asking people if they’d like to join me on stage to perform a song or two and they said yes — when I started thinking about recording it.”

Keen has also been working on his Merry Christmas From The Fam-O-Lee Christmas Tour — a holiday-themed show where he and several special guests perform songs of the season as other characters. That tour takes him through Texas and parts of Oklahoma and Tennessee during the Christmas season.

“It started off like most stuff I do — by accident,” said Keen. “I wrote this song, ‘Merry Christmas from the Family.’ When I wrote this song, it was almost out of frustration because I hadn’t written a Christmas song. It became one of my favorite songs to perform. Sometimes, I’d run through the other songs in my shows just to get to that one.

“As time went by, I wanted to make something more out of it. Over the last few years, we started adding costumes and some staging.”

Keen’s songwriting career has yielded hit songs for other artists such as George Strait, the Dixie Chicks, Nanci Griffith and the Highwaymen — a country supergroup consisting of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson.

“I can honestly say I’ve never heard a song of mine recorded by someone else that I haven’t been tickled to death about,” said Keen. “It’s just awesome. It makes you feel like you’ve done something right.”

And, Keen is also helping young, aspiring musicians learn how to play. He performs an annual fundraising concert for the Hill Country Youth Orchestra, an organization dedicated to helping children as young as 5 years old learn to play instruments and doesn’t charge money to participate.

“I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to play an instrument, regardless of their talent level,” said Keen. “So, when you get little kids … who have that instinct to go start banging away on an instrument, you have to support it. That’s what the Hill Country Youth Orchestra is all about.”