For most musicians who make a living on tour, summers are pretty predictable. Get on the road, play every amphitheatre that will have you, do some festivals, maybe perform at some fairs, enjoy the air conditioner during the club and theatre dates. Play the hits and the fan favorites, night after night, watching the days get longer and then shorter again.
Then there’s Robert Earl Keen. It seems like he’s always on tour but he manages to keep his schedule and his show anything but stereotypical. He just performed at the second day of Bonnaroo and the massive, eclectic festival is a perfect metaphor for his 2004 tour – huge and all over the place.
Keen’s booking agent, Brian Hill at Monterey Artists, told Pollstar the singer/songwriter has “found his inner hippie,” a discovery that will take Keen from free-spirited Bonnaroo to a handful of dates opening for the Dave Matthews Band. He’s also playing some smaller, super-cool festivals (Great Texas Mosquito Festival, Rhythm & Roots, Strictly Bluegrass) that audiences will be talking about for months to come. There are plenty of club dates on the calendar as well.
“My set list changes every day.” Keen said. “If we’re in a theatre, I’ll do more acoustic numbers, maybe do four or five solo numbers and then bring the band back in. If it’s a big festival, we turn it up and hit the gas pedal.”
During soundcheck, Keen said he tries to get the vibe of the place, tailor the set to the situation, and figure out how to have as much fun as possible in the process.
And it is an ongoing process. Keen’s current concert itinerary runs through the very end of the year. He’s made an art of writing songs about anti-heroes, eccentrics and regular folks in weird circumstances; his audience includes those people. But no matter who you are or where you see him, Keen’s doing
what he can to make sure you enjoy the show.
You know the guy that yells out “Free Bird” at every concert he attends? “Oh, yeah,” said Keen, “He comes to our shows, too. And we have a version of ‘Free Bird’ if it’s needed. We just want everyone to go home happy.”