Old friends Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett are coming to town
Singer and songwriter Robert Earl Keen knows nothing as sublime as hanging out with an old friend.
He also knows nothing comes close to the fun he has when he plays music with that friend.
Park City will get experience that feeling first hand when Keen and Lyle Lovett, who have been friends since the late 1970s, play together on Thursday, Feb. 1, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd.
“When we go out, we do the same things we did when we first met,” Keen said. “I mean we sit and talk and talk and talk on the tour bus before the show. Then finally somebody will say, ‘Hey, it’s show time.’ and then we’ll go out onto the stage and talk about the same thing we were talking about in the bus.”
The energy on stage is rooted in the two musicians’ love for music.
“Lyle likes some really great and serious solo performers, and I liked some other solo performers, and we’re always checking out what’s going on in the scene,” Keen said.
The two musicians differ in their approach to playing and songwriting, but that’s what makes the shows interesting.
“Lyle’s kind of a master with comedic timing and with his choice of songs,” Keen said. “I’m more freeform with my stuff, but I think as a duo, it works well.”
Although Keen and Lovett tour together once a year or once every two years, Keen still learns new things from his counterpart.
“I always admire and try to emulate his control of how he does stuff,” he said.
Keen’s feeling is magnified when he gets on stage.“There’s no written set list,” he said. “Sure there are repeats from night to night, but it’s all an effort to continue to explore how much we can get out of the songs we have written over the years.”
That’s what keeps the concerts fresh, Keen explained.
“A lot of times Lyle will start three or four nights with the same song, but in general he’ll start off a song and if I have played something similar with that song the night before, I’ll try to think of another angle of approach,” he said. “I’ll try to find out what else is in that song that works. And while I like to have a loose connection with what he’s playing, for the most part, we play off each other.”
Keen knows these concerts are special for him, but they are also special for the audiences.
“These are great songs and it’s a lot of fun, but in the world of music and performance, there isn’t a lot of tours like this, especially in the world of people who really have known each other for so long,” he said. “It’s really unique and I’m lucky to be able to do this a couple of times a year with Lyle. It’s my favorite thing to do these days.”
The last time Keen and Lovett performed together was last fall during the Hand in Hand: A Benefit for Hurricane Harvey Relief, that was part of the Deep From the Heart: Hurricane Relief Concert and telethon.
Hand in Hand was a three-part benefit that took place in New York, Los Angeles, and San Antonio, where Lovett and Keen performed with George Strait, Chris Stapleton and Miranda Lambert.
The money raised from their concert, which was organized by Strait, went to the Rebuild Texas Fund.
“As far as I understand, George asked Lyle and me first and then got Chris Stapleton and Miranda Lambert onboard,” Keen said. “It came together really fast.”
The artists played the show after only 10 days.
“George has full rein of the show and where the money would go, which was great,” Keen said. “George is a quiet guy, but very much in charge.”
The money was given to the small towns including Rockport and Port Aransas — that were destroyed in the hurricane.
“It went off great, and I can say it was easily in the top three musical experiences in my life,” Keen said.
Keen enjoys performing benefit concerts as long as there is a clear vision of the cause.
“I never have felt as an artist you use or abuse your place on stage to get out some kind of message, because I really think what we do is about music and entertainment,” he said. “I do think that you can use your celebrity [status] to bring people together. When you do that, a lot of good things can happen.
“There are a lot of things I turn down, but when it looks like it will work good and the goal is clear then I’m always all in.”
For the past 11 years Keen has played an annual concert in his hometown of Kerrville, Texas, that benefits the Hill Country Youth Orchestra, which is composed of youths aged 6 to 18, who play violin, viola, cello and bass.
“This is our 11th year doing these concerts,” he said. “All the money that comes in goes to the orchestra. This is a way for me to give back to the music, something that has been good to me in my career.”
After looking back on the past 30 years Keen said he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I trudged on with the things I wanted to do, even though a smart guy would have quit long ago,” he guffawed. “This is what I wanted to do. I believe in the human will, and I believe in having a passion for what you do. I think those two things that will help you along.”
Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett will perform at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 1, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd. For information, visit http://www.ecclescenter.org.
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