Robert Earl Keen Begins His Ride Into the Texas Sunset With One Last Tour

by Jim Casey
robert-earl-keen-begins-his-ride-into-the-texas-sunset-with-one-last-tour

“I’m comin’ home. Made up my mind that’s what I’m gonna do. Can’t love nobody on the telephone. I’m comin’ home to you.” – Robert Earl Keen, “I’m Comin’ Home.”

Oh, a lot of folks will tell you Robert Earl Keen’s best song is “The Road Goes on Forever,” “Merry Christmas From the Family,” or “Corpus Christi Bay.” Of course, those folks are wrong. And yeah, I mean that in jest. In my opinion, REK’s best song is “I’m Comin’ Home.” In fact, I’m confident Robert Earl would agree. With apologies to songwriters Steve Goodman and John Prine and artist David Allan Coe, “I’m Comin’ Home” is my perfect country and western song.

So it feels fitting that Robert Earl is capping his 41 years on the road with the aptly named I’m Comin’ Home Tour. It’s fitting, but I don’t have to like the personal void Robert Earl is leaving behind.

If you ain’t spinning REK on vinyl, you ain’t living.

REK’s Farewell Tour

On January 14, 2022, Robert Earl Keen announced he was retiring from touring in a video message he posted on his socials. It was late on a Friday afternoon, and my phone started blowing up. Friends. Family. Industry peers. They all knew I would be crushed by the news.

For the last 25 years, I’ve been flocking to REK’s concerts, ever since my college teammate from Dumas, Texas, introduced me to the sounds of Robert Earl Keen’s 1996 album, No. 2 Live Dinner.

And I’ve flocked to a lot of them. Somewhere in the 75-100 range. If it was a drivable distance from my Tennessee home, I was there. Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Chattanooga’s Tivoli Theatre. Knoxville’s Bijou Theater. Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse. Birmingham’s WorkPlay. Oxford’s The Lyrics. Memphis’ New Daisy Theater. In fact, to this day, the greatest concert I’ve ever seen was circa 2006 when Cross Canadian Ragweed opened for REK at the New Daisy.

My GOAT

As a country music journalist for the last 10 years, the conversations I’ve had with REK are some of my favorites. Simply put: Robert Earl Keen is my GOAT. Everyone has one. REK is mine.

The last time I spoke to REK was June 2021. He was on his tour bus, ready to resume playing live after the pandemic cancellations.

“I’ve been touring so long, touring has become who I am,” said the Texas troubadour. “I’m fairly capable as a husband and father. I’ve learned how to be a business person. What I’m great at is managing the road. I guess I was meant to be a touring musician. It’s not like I’m riding a bicycle, it’s like I am the bicycle.”

Hence why his retirement announcement, six months later on Jan. 14, caught me so off-guard.

I haven’t spoken to Robert Earl since he announced his retirement tour on Jan. 14. I’m sure I will. But I did buy a ticket to his final show on Sept. 4 at Floore’s Country Store in Helotes, Texas. I’m going to make the 1900-mile road trip from Nashville to Helotes (and back) with a couple of old friends.

I think I just want to shake REK’s hand in Helotes and say “thank you.”

Thank you, Robert Earl Keen, for all the joy, memories, and music you’ve given me—and countless others.

REK’s I’m Comin’ Home Tour kicks off on April 22, with more than 50 dates, including stops at Cain’s Ballroom (May 20), Ryman Auditorium (July 9), and more. Don’t miss your last chance to see the Lone Star State luminary live in concert.

An article I wrote for “Country Weekly” magazine in February 2015, signed by the man.
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