Ready for Confetti, Robert Earl Keen looks forward to singing for a hometownHouston crowd
Yes, it’s true: For Robert Earl Keen, the road actually does go on forever. And the party never really ends. Indeed, if you just take a gander at the website of this eclectically inclined country-rocker, you’ll see what a relentlessly touring entertainer he is.
On Wednesday, the road takes Keen back to Houston, for a gig at one of his very favorite venues, The House of Blues. The Sharpstown High grad is looking forward to playing for a hometown crowd, because he knows what to expect from a boisterous audience of H-Town hearty-partiers.
And since Wednesday still counts as part of the Christmas season, he knows pretty much what the audience expects as well.
CultureMap: This time of year, I would imagine your fans are demanding to hear “Merry Christmas from the Family” [Keen’s signature tune about a drunken holiday gathering] even more than “The Road Goes On Forever,” right?
Robert Earl Keen: Absolutely. I think whenever I come around to this time of year, every year, I tell myself, “OK, I’m gonna see if I can just go out there and stand out there for an hour, and then play that song and just walk off, and see if that works.” I don’t know – I guess it’s kind of a funny, smart-ass fantasy.
"And I know there are people who don’t like Houston, or have a hard time defending it, because it’s sprawled out or whatever. But for me, personally – I guess it’s because I grew up there, I don’t know. But I always feel totally at peace in Houston."
But, yeah, there is a definite feeling that no matter what we’re playing, how good we’re doing, how many people are screaming “Robert Earl Keen! Robert Earl Keen! Robert Earl Keen!” – they’re still just waiting for this one song. I know that’s happening, I know there’s no way I’m going to get out of the building alive without playing it. So it’s a matter of, OK, let’s have enough anticipation to let everybody be excited about it – but not too much for them to get pissed off.
CM: Is there a special vibe you get from playing for a hometown audience?
REK: First off, the answer would be yes. And then I would have to say that, as long as I’ve been away, I always immediately feel at peace whenever I go back to Houston. Even when I’m on the freeway, I’m at peace. Houston has a certain vibe that no other place has. And I know there are people who don’t like Houston, or have a hard time defending it, because it’s sprawled out or whatever. But for me, personally – I guess it’s because I grew up there, I don’t know. But I always feel totally at peace in Houston.
CM: Ready for Confetti is the title of your latest… well, wait a minute. I guess they don’t call them albums anymore.
REK: No, they still call them albums. Or CDs. Projects. Episodes. [Laughs] Tragedies. Mistakes.
CM: Well, OK then. Like all of your albums, it’s a crazy-quilt mix of musical styles, ranging pure country to folk to country rock to Americana and on and on. And there’s diversity within individual songs -- like “I Gotta Go,” which sounds bouncy and cheery only until you really listen to the lyrics, and you realize it’s a pretty dang dark account of a guy who’s been spending his life racing toward his death.
REK: [Laughs] You’re right, it does have kind of a dark thing going. But it’s not near as dark as I’ve been in the past.
CM: But does this diversity ever work against you in terms of building an audience? Because, really, it’s not like I can give somebody who’s never heard your music a copy of Ready for Confetti – or any one of your albums, really – and tell them, “All right, this is typical Robert Earl Keen.”
REK: Well, because this is the way I am, I have to feel like my diversity is my strength. And the reason why I’ve been able to have a career that’s gone on now for nearly 30 years. As far as fans go, it’s like I always say: I’m like a Milton Bradley game, good for folks 8 to 80. When people come to hear me perform – unless they just don’t like me, they’re going to find something they like in the show.
CM: You are a true Texas cowboy, in that you actually maintain a ranch near your home in Kerrville. What’s a typical day at the ranch like for you?
REK: Oh, I kind of clean up a few things. Fix up the tack room. I’ve got three horses, so I’ve got to feed them. And I’ve got an old Dodge Dart – a ’63 Dodge Dart that my grandmother gave me. I start it up every time I go to the ranch, just to keep it running.
And occasionally I take people out hunting. There’s a pool there, so in the summertime I hang out by the pool. And when I write, I have this shack I call the Scriptorium where I write. I have about a half-dozen guitars up there, and about a thousand cowboy books. So I play my guitars, read these books – and build a campfire outside the door and eat deer sausage.