Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen open up about the Texas A&M porch where it all started 40 years ago
Special to the Daily
If you go ...
What: An evening with Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen.
Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center, Beaver Creek.
When: Wednesday, Feb. 21, 7:30 p.m.
Cost: $98 and $125.
More information: Visit www.vilarpac.org.
The old porch where Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen first met back in the 1970s as Texas A&M students is gone. Although paved over now, the porch, literally, paved the way for an undying friendship between these two talented musicians.
“The Front Porch Song,” which Lovett and Keen wrote, was inspired by that meeting, Keen once told a Texas Report writer. “We used to sit on this old porch on Church Street, right across from the Presbyterian church, and play bluegrass and folk music, and talk about girls and where we were going to move to when our parents saw our grades. We’d talk about someday becoming big songwriters.”
On Wednesday night, Feb. 21, these two old friends — both extraordinary storytellers — will take the stage at the Vilar Performing Arts Center, thoroughly entrancing the audience with their quirky observations on life, people or whatever happens to stir their creative juices.
“I like to tell a story the way I think of a story having a beginning, middle and an end,” Keen said. “And, although I don’t consider myself a comic, I’m sort of always going for something funny and interesting, and, maybe unusual.”
Lovett has a different take on his composing.
“I usually write on my guitar and the words sort of come with their own music some way or another when they pop into my head,” he said. “It’s always an idea that comes together at the same time.”
When he is performing — whether it’s solo, with his Big Band or with Keen — Lovett is a man for all seasons. Be it country, blues, soul, gospel, Lovett does it all, seemingly floating from one genre to another taking the audience with him on his journey. He’s learned from and played with the best, such as the late singer-songwriters Towns Van Zandt and Walter Hyatt.
“My arrangements are always about serving the idea of the song,” Lovett said. “I grew up listening to all types of music and I always let the song dictate the arrangement and certain lyrical ideas are represented better by a certain style of music. That’s really what it is. If it’s a lyrical idea that seems like it should be a country song, then that’s what it is. Or if it seems like it should be more of a blues-based song, then that’s what it is.”
Lovett grew up in Klein, Texas, on the coastal plain north of Houston. The town is named after Adam Klein, Lovett’s great, great grandfather, a German immigrant who arrived in 1848 and owned one of the largest vegetable farms in Harris county — each generation working to keep the farm going.
Lovett, an only child, was very close with his grandparents who watched him after school until his parents got home from work. Unfortunately, the Klein family lost the farm when, in 1979, his beloved grandmother died. However in 1995, Lovett was finally able to buy the place — his respite — back. And, Uncle Calvin, now in his 80s, still lives and works there.
“It’s still a working farm right in the middle of the suburbs in north Harris County,” Lovett said proudly. “I’ve spent my whole life trying to do my grandfather’s work. I love that place.”
Just as it does with his family, Lovett’s spirit of warmth and loyalty also shows up in the way he interacts with every musician with whom he performs. He’s worked with bassist Victor Krauss, pianist Jim Cox and drummer Russ Kunkel for more than 20 years. His Large Band is two and three deep in every position, so it’s always different by a person or two. And Lovett has a personal connection, a friendship, with each one of these musicians.
“You know, my entire career and interaction with people has been kind of an organic evolution,” Lovett said reflectively. “You meet people because of other people that you work with or in a serendipity fashion. You get booked on a show and you meet somebody and you end up hitting it off with them and you might become friends, stay in touch. It all happens in the business just in the way relationships happen in life. I’ve always been happy to just let things happen in that way, rather than think ‘I’d really like to work with so and so.’ For me it’s been more of the case of you meet somebody and you hit it off and you think, ‘hey, you know, we should work together.’”
When Lovett takes the stage he is off and running. He goes from one song to another, one genre to another immediately engaging the audience — emoting pure joy, his energy never waning.
“I’m always excited to do a show,” Lovett said. “When you work with people like Kunkel, Victor and Jim, as well as Matt (Rollings, a Grammy Award winner who plays piano, organ and keyboards) or Francine Reed (who appeared with him at the Avon Performance Pavilion last summer), how could you not be excited? And you get to do what you love to do with the people who are the very best at what they do, and they’re there helping you. It’s exciting every time. I just walk on the field and get to play a game.”
Lovett will walk on the field and play that game with Keen in their upcoming performance.
“Robert and I have been friends since 1976 and it’s one of those kinds of relationships where we finish each others sentences in a way that the other one doesn’t expect,” Lovett said. “In a way, we’re similar, and have qualities that complement each other and that’s what we enjoy about our relationship. We look at things from a slightly different perspective, which we each find entertaining. Even in life, when I find something interesting I think, ‘I wonder what Robert would think of this.’”
‘A Simpler Place’
Some years ago, in an interview with Andy Langer, an Austin, Texas KGSR Radio personality, Lovett and Keen talked about their working relationship and the old porch where they met so long ago.
“I suppose the porch does have a meaning of its own now. It’s our Walden Pond. It takes you back to a simpler place, to where you can just hang out and be yourself around friends,” Keen said.
Lovett added, “The fact that Robert and I have gotten to make our livings playing music and doing something that we love to do, that we talked about and dreamed about doing back on that porch, is an extraordinary privilege. The fact that we’re friends to this day and feel the same spark from each other suggests it was real from the beginning.
“If we’re standing backstage before a show talking, we just walk out onstage and keep talking,” he continued. “That’s about as showbiz as it gets.”
It would be really hard to spark a wildfire anywhere near Vail Mountain or Beaver Creek right now. Still, unattended campfires will always draw attention.