After 40 years of entertaining his legion of fans across the world, Robert Earl Keen announced in January that he will be retiring from touring this fall.
Sharing the news in a heartfelt poem entitled “Time Flies,” the 66-year-old entertainer explained that he was neither sick nor experiencing any “existential crisis” when making the decision to step away from touring. Rather he simply wanted to quit the road while he still loved it.
“One of the main things that stuck in my mind when I first started [performing] was that I always wanted to have the same passion and not get burnt out or lose that passion. I had been feeling like I was really burning out,” Keen shares with MusicRow. “I didn’t want to be someone who couldn’t make that decision or who would just continue to go through the motions. I wanted to go out on a high note.
“I’ve been telling people I want to make two lives out of one,” he continues. “I had this really great life and I’m not quitting music by any stretch, but I’m quitting touring. There’s so much more that I want to do in music and even in other areas. I never have been scared of retiring, but I’m not just going to play golf and die. That’s not what I’m interested in.”
Though closing the chapter on touring, the Texas native will continue to write, record, and host his own Americana Podcast, which he started nearly three years ago. Since beginning the podcast, Keen says it has opened him up to a whole new world of great, young players from the genre.
“Some of them are just stellar, and I’ve gotten to be introduced to them and listen to their music. I thrive on that interchange and it’s opened up my ears and eyes to all kinds of music.”
He adds, “The other part of [continuing to work on music] is, at the outset of COVID in May of 2020, I started building a video studio with cameras, lights, and everything else. I feel like that’s a vehicle to put my songs out there and also use it to have people come out and play, do a livestream, a podcast, or whatever else. I’ve built up enough of a name for myself where people will come to me now.”
And what a name he’s built.
Throughout his career, Keen has recorded 19 albums—12 studio projects and 7 live records—and celebrated a number of successful songs, including “The Front Porch Song,” which he wrote with Lyle Lovett; his signature “The Road Goes on Forever,” “I Gotta Go,” and “Feelin’ Good Again;” and the holiday classic “Merry Christmas From The Family.”
The decorated singer-songwriter has also notched a plethora of writing credits for artists such as Lovett, George Strait, Montgomery Gentry, The Chicks, The Highwaymen, Gillian Welch, and Shawn Colvin, to name a few. Along the way, he has been honored with the BMI Troubadour Award, Texas A&M University Distinguished Alumni Award, and the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame Spirit of Texas Award. Keen was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters in 2020.
The renowned entertainer also has quite a resume when it comes to his touring success. “I like to say I’ve played everything from a garage sale to the Kennedy Center,” he quips. “I’ve experienced every machination of the music business and any way you can do a show that you could possibly think of.
“The best two hours of my day, especially on the road, was when I was performing,” Keen recalls fondly. “Everything else just fell away when I got up there and started playing. All the travel and all the obstacles that you encountered just fell away.“
Keen will play a string of remaining shows over the coming months with stops in Texas, Utah, Colorado, and more before closing his touring chapter over Labor Day weekend. With two back-to-back shows at Floore’s Country Store in Helotes, Texas, he will wrap up the weekend with a special fan appreciation party on Sept. 5.
“I really want it to be a come one, come all,” Keen explains. “On Labor Day, I’m going to have a free fan appreciation day with the house band. I’m going to invite all my Texas pals and some of my other friends that I love around the country. People can get up and play some songs, then more people can get up and play some more. Everybody else can just drink beer, shake hands and take pictures.”
He sums, “The goal is to have a real sweet send-off.”
Although it’s the end of an era, fans have no need to fret as Keen already has plans to start scratching out a record later this spring.
“My thought is it will be somewhat in the nature of a farewell record, like a ‘see you down the road’ kind of thing,” he puts simply.
Keen will give his final public performance in Music City tomorrow night (Feb. 18) at the historic Ryman Auditorium. Originally scheduled for December as part of his “Road To Christmas Tour,” the nearly sold out show will mark his tenth year of sharing his unique Christmas show at the hallowed venue.
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