Legendary singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen capped 41 years on the road with one final performance at Floore’s Country Store in Helotes, Texas, on Sept. 4.
I’ve written about my admiration for REK numerous times. But attending his final performance was a 1,900-mile bucket-list road trip, considering I’ve attended somewhere in the neighborhood of 75-100 of his shows over the last 25 years. And one of my ongoing “beer bets with a buddy” at each one of his shows was to try to guess REK’s opening song.
Over the years, trying to guess the opener became one of my favorite parts of the REK live experience. Of course, opening favorites were usually songs like “The Five Pound Bass” or “Feelin’ Good Again.” However, Robert Earl often sprinkled in tunes like “I’m Going to Town,” “Dreadful Selfish Crime,” “The Front Porch Song,” and more. And, REK treated us to plenty of “wildcards” over the years.
For REK’s final opener, I had my money on “Feelin’ Good Again.” Wrong. Wildcard.
Final Opener: REK Medley
Somewhere around 10 p.m. on Sept. 4, Robert Earl took the stage at Floore’s to begin his final show. After taking his seat, REK thanked the crowd. Then, Robert Earl explained the reasoning behind his final opener—a medley that has probably never been played before.
“We’re just going to play this one little interesting thing,” said Robert Earl Keen. “We were in Washington, D.C., about a month ago. And a man brought his family backstage. And he said, ‘My three girls love to fall asleep to “Amazing Grace,'” and I said, ‘Oh, well, that’s really great, that’s wonderful.’ He said, ‘My son here, though, who’s only six years old, he likes to fall asleep to your song “A Border Tragedy.'” . . . I said, ‘Well, I think we can work that together.’ So we worked them both together. And that’s how we’re gonna start out this show tonight.”
Robert then opened the show with an instrumental version of “Amazing Grace, which led into “A Border Tale.”
The entertaining tune—a back-alley tale of drinking, smoking, and vomiting in Acuna, Mexico—was featured on REK’s 2005 album, What I Really Mean. It also included an instrumental intro. In addition, the studio track featured Ray Price singing lyrics from “The Dying Cowboy” (beat the drum slowly, play the fife lowly…).
Watch Robert Earl Keen’s final opener below.