I have never been to a Texas roadhouse, but last night Robert Earl Keen made me feel like I was smack in the middle of one during his sold-out set at The State Room.
It wasn’t the trucker hats in the crowd or the free-flowing booze (so, so much booze) or the hoots and hollers when Texas was named (which it was, often). It was, simply put, that being at a Robert Earl Keen show feels like being at home—even if that home is a place you’ve never actually been. And a Texas roadhouse is where Keen is supposed to be. And a Robert Earl Keen show is where I’m supposed to be.
From the first notes—arriving after a Keen spun one of his trademark yarns about his decades-long friendship with Lyle Lovett—the crowd at The State Room sang along to every word, raised their beer cans in the in the air and appropriately shouted out lyrics (most notably the “Mormon Tabernacle Choir” portion of “Feelin’ Good Again,” as is Utah tradition at REK shows).
And as the night wore on, and the more well-known songs got played, “I Gotta Go,” “Gringo Honeymoon,” and the previously mentioned, “Feelin’ Good Again,” the playlist fell into songs only the most faithful fans would know, and the crowd delivered. I noticed men and women alike mouthing words to each other, and not just to REK’s songs—but to a James McMurtry song he covered as well, erasing any doubt that I was once again surrounded by Texans at a REK show.
This show was a more casual jam-session of a Robert Earl Keen show than I’ve ever seen before. From Keen’s jeans—something he noted was a rarity—to the less familiar, but possibly more comfortable for the band, songs—Keen seemed to be in his element last night. And his band, a ragtag group of men who look like they are more likely to be junior high math teachers than musicians, shined as bright as they ever do on a variety of instruments so varied that even Keen couldn’t name them all when he did the band intros.
The band really hit their stride during the encore in which Keen took a back-up role, allowing band members to take over lead vocals for two covers, The Grateful Dead’s “Casey Jones” and the late Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” both a little more twangy than the originals.
And, somehow, though exhausted by the end of last night’s show, Keen and his band plays in Park City tonight, where they’ll make another venue feel like Texas for ninety minutes and change.
Talk about feelin’ good again.