Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 4 Reviews

Robert Earl Keen
Saturday, Oct. 2, 5:30 p.m.
Rooster Stage.
Reviewed by Mike Alexis

It got really cold and we started to see our breath out in the long narrow field in front of the large Rooster Stage. Capping off a long day, Robert Earl Keen shouted, "this is beyond my wildest dreams." With an impressive band consisting of Marty Muse on the pedal steel and dobro, Bill Witbeck on the bass, Tom Van Shaik on drums, Rich Brotherton on guitar, and Danny Barnes from the Bad Livers on banjo, Keen commanded the stage as they ripped through heartland rockers, bluesy numbers, and some searing honky-tonk.

Keen, along with John Langford and a few others, had to be one of the most rock and roll leaning artists of the festival. Like Springsteen and Dylan, his ability to find poignancy in the mundane is what makes his songs resonate. He was able to translate his fragile stories of the disenfranchised to the large crowd, all while projecting a huge presence. Before launching into his joyful "That Buckin' Song," he said, "let's sing one together" and when the chorus came, "Yippee Yi Ki Ay" was sung throughout the crowd. Danny Barnes stepped up the song with a skittering banjo solo that complemented Marty Muse's swinging pedal steel. Next came a Keen favorite, "Wild Wind Blows," which featured a tender harmonica solo from Bill Witbeck.

After nearly every song Keen belted out a hearty "thank you!" It was definitely a big contrast to most of the festival performers' modest, subdued rapport, but was genuine and well received. Another thing that stood out was the electronic drumbeat that introduced one of his songs. It was fairly unorthodox and conspicuous even for those who aren't purists, but the band kicked in and it faded in the background. Anyway, no one seemed to mind. As the sky got darker and the air even colder, the crowd was right there with him, and we all closed out the day together.

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