Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett bring classic Texas rock to Beaver Creek
Special to the Daily
If you go …
What: Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen.
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 14.
Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center, 68 Avondale Lane, Beaver Creek.
Cost: Tickets start at $98.
More information: Tickets are on sale now at the VPAC Box Office, by calling 970-845-8497 or visiting http://www.vilarpac.org.
If you know anything about Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett, then you probably know about the front porch. If you don’t, then here’s the story:
Back in the day, when Lovett and Keen were attending Texas A&M, Keen played and sang bluegrass music with a little four-piece band of fellow Aggies who called themselves the Front Porch Boys, as it was on Keen’s front porch where they gathered to play and party.
“And, we’d make comments about everybody who walked or rode by while we were pickin’ and grinnin’,” Keen recalled with a laugh. “And, one day, we were like, ‘who’s that dude on that 10-speed?”
That dude was Lovett, who heard the music streaming from the porch.
“He was really nice, really polite,” Keen said. “And he had a huge Afro like they had on ‘That ’70s Show’ because it was that ’70s kind of time. And he said, ‘Hey, can I play a song?”
And so began a friendship of two of the most extraordinary storytellers, each with a distinctive style and both having the ability to keep the listener engaged. They share the same outlook on life, and both are able to laugh together about the quirky nature of people.
The two old friends will take the stage Monday at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek to share their observations, memories and music — with twists and turns in their lyrics that keep the audience thoroughly entranced.
Keen grew up listening to classic rock along with his older brother’s Willie Nelson records. But it was his younger sister who exposed him to the area’s acoustic folk scene. By the time he got to Texas A&M, where he was working on his English degree, he was teaching himself guitar and setting his poetic musings to song, which have been described as “adventurous stories with novel-like plots.”
“I try 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 sorta always going for something funny and interesting and maybe unusual.
“Lately, I’ve been writing short songs for a short attention span culture, so I wrote a song about our municipal airport, famously titled, ‘Our Municipal Airport.’ It basically says that it has a lot of planes. I just do that because I just want to amuse myself, and the other thought is that 95 percent of the songs are about love or some kind of emotional thing, you know. I just sorta want to go the other way.”
While Lovett signed with a major label, Keen remained independent, producing his own work. After a two-year stint in Nashville, he returned to Texas armed with a publishing deal, a new label and a national booking agent. In 1988, his career finally kicked into high gear. “All of a sudden, I heard my song on the radio, back-to-back with a Sheryl Crow song,” Keen said. “And I thought, ‘Man, this is cool.’ It was the first time that I really felt like I was a real part of the music business, despite having been in it for a pretty long time.”
Both Lovett and Keen have the ability to evoke emotion and depth in their music, each in his own way, and both are shining examples to young songwriters.
“The merit of a good song would be that it provokes a real feeling,” Keen said. “It can be any kind of feeling, any kind of emotion, but its gotta grab ya. So within that, the definition, it can be just the melody or it can be the words alone or both. The song has to grab you. It has to get your attention.
“I kinda go through this life making up my own rules because I don’t really fit with some of the rules. I’m not a rule-breaker; I just don’t fit into the norm. So, I just like to put out stuff that’s interesting to me.”
Keen plays it all — bluegrass, Western swing and country music. Bluegrass, however, is his favorite.
“I think bluegrass is a special form of music because it’s so communal and you can play with anyone,” he said. “You can play with people you’ve never met. You can play with someone from Bulgaria that doesn’t even speak English or someone from Portland, Oregon, or Portland, Maine — and everybody knows a certain set of songs that are all the same.
“I would say that’s the biggest difference between bluegrass and any other music genre. There are some country standards that most people can play, but it’s not as clear. I can promise you that.”
It’s not very often that Keen and Lovett get to perform together. In fact, it’s rare.
“We did a couple of shows a few years ago, and it was the highlight of my year,” Keen said. “Of course, Lyle has his Large Band and I’ve had my band for 20-something years, and to get back to the person way of performing is like getting to lay back in a really hot bath.”
Just one more thing about the front porch. It’s a good story, and right up Keen’s alley.
“There was this guy and he was the first guy I saw that had a man bun,” Keen said. “And he was a true freak. This was back in the ’70s. He had a real falsetto voice and was so earnest — but he made us fall down laughing. But anyway, he hung around the porch and always sang that Joni Mitchell song that says, ‘They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.’
“And every time I go to College Station and drive by where that house was, I think of that guy — as it is just a parking lot now.”