ROBERT EARL KEEN - LIVE DINNER REUNION DISCUSSION
One year ago (2015) Robert Earl Keen played John T. Floores Country Store. That event was not a huge surprise as the venue is a regular stop on the yearly, ever-changing, tours of Robert Earl Keen as he plays roadhouses, honky-tonks, and dance halls throughout Texas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. What made this particular night special was an anniversary of the first Robert Earl Keen live album, No. 2 Live Dinner, recorded twenty years ago in the same Helotes, Texas venue. On November 18, 2015. Robert Earl Keen recorded his performance, mirroring and adding on to the set list from the previous recording. It was a memorable show for the man on stage, and the playback sounded so good that Robert Earl Keen has released Live Dinner Reunion, sharing his table at John T. Floores Country Store with special guests as well as openers Reckless Kelly along with Cody Canada and the Departed.
There was never a store in the traditional sense when John T. Floores opened for business in 1942 as he created a unique Texas Dance Hall and Café. For seventy years, the stage has welcomed Texas treasures and national artists smart enough to tour the Lone Star State. The sound of Live Dinner Reunion becomes a live event as audience cheers, singing the words nearly as much as Robert Earl Keen for show of his hits. Friends join the band as Bruce Robison shares vocals on “No Kinda Dancer”, Cory Morrow grabs a ride with Robert Earl for “I’ll Go on Downtown”), and Cody Braun (Reckless Kelly) catches the same breeze as the playing with “Wild Wind”. The original band that backed Robert Earl Keen on the 1995 show returns to the stage, introduced on “Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas”.
Robert Earl Keen found some time on his non-stop tour to talk about the back story for Live Dinner Reunion, how it came to be and what it means to him.
Robert Earl Keen (REK): ’I didn’t want it just like the original, only similar. I was to listening to the show and I realized how good it sounded and should be released. The real challenge was to make sure that the songs all sounded good. The original show was in 1995, and without exaggeration, the recording of this show was possibly my best night ever. This show was what I had always imagined the music business being. We sat backstage and talked about the songs and the show before we went on stage.
The Alternate Root (TAR): You were peers for the some of the artists during the period of the original recording while some others were not even professional musicians when you recorded No. 2 Live Dinner.
REK: I have known Joe Ely and Lyle Lovett for years. Lyle’s version for “T is for Texas” is completely different than the way I do it, his version is much more soulful. Cody Canada and Reckless Kelly told me how much the live album had played a role in their lives. It was never my favorite album but it had really influenced them.
TAR: Since No. 2 Dinner Live you and your songs have become a part of musical culture.
REK: The audience was incredible. When I did the Christmas song (“Merry Christmas from the Fam-O-Lee”) the audience was singing more than I was. There were about 4500 people in the audience, though I was told it was more like 5000 with the people outside. It is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the venue. It is really more like the dance halls east of I 35 on the Southeast and Gulf Coasts. What makes it great is how is blends in an outside venue like in West Texas. Willie Nelson talks about Floores in his song “Shotgun Willie”, and he plays there at least once a year.
TAR: How has music changed in the past twenty years, helping make your songs more well-known every year.
REK: The music has changed a lot since the first album with addition of Texas Country Music as a format. I think I have keep the music out there by relentlessly beating the road. I become synonymous with road goes on forever.
Robert Earl Keen closes Live Dinner Reunion with his longtime friend, Joe Ely, joining in for “The Road Goes on Forever” while the album plays host to many favorites songs from a long career with “Gringo Honeymoon”, “Corpus Christi Bay”, and “Amarillo Highway”. Live Dinner Reunion makes room at the table for new tunes, like “Hot Corn, Cold Corn” from Robert’s Bluegrass musical adventure as show opener Cody Canada intros the band and joins Robert Earl Keen for “Lonely Feelin’”.