OXFORD • The list of singers who’ve covered a song written and recorded by Robert Earl Keen is a lengthly one.
The lineup includes the likes of George Strait, Joe Ely, Nanci Griffith, Montgomery Gentry, the Dixie Chicks, Shawn Colvin, the Highwaymen, and Keen’s old college friend, Lyle Lovett.
Keen, a singer/songwriter from Texas, still enjoys going on the road, playing intimate venues where he can connect with the audience through the stories from his own music.
Keen’s current tour will stop Feb. 7 at The Lyric Oxford. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show can be purchased through the Lyric’s website, thelyricoxford.com
Keen has never had any mainstream radio success or chart-topping recordings, but his extensive catalog of Americana/country music and genuine on-stage presence have earned him a huge fan following and respect from fellow musicians.
Some of Keen’s best-known songs are “Gringo Honeymoon,” “Corpus Christi Bay,” “The Road Goes on Forever,” “Over the Waterfall,” and his dysfunctional holiday favorite, “Merry Christmas from the Family.” He’s recorded 18 full-length albums dating back to his 1984 debut LP, “No Kinda Dancer.”
Keen has spent most of his music career in his home state. He was inducted into the 2012 Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame along with Lovett, whom he met in the mid 1970s at Texas A&M University. In 2015, he became the first recipient of BMI’s Troubadour Award for songwriting.
Keen recently took a break from his tour to answer a few questions about his upcoming performance in Oxford, the tour and his music.
For anyone who’s never been to a Robert Earl Keen concert, what should they expect?
“First off, I have an amazing band. Great group of musicians that are just fantastic at their respective instruments. We are a great live show. I mean, that’s what clicks it for people. Everybody goes (in a goofy voice) ‘Oh I’ve been a fan for 15 years, man, this is the first show I’ve ever seen. I wish I’d have gone 15 years ago. This is incredible!’ It all comes together. So if there’s somebody out there thinking about buying a ticket or coming to a show, quit thinking about it and come to the show. Because it really puts it all together, it puts the whole package together to be able to see and feel the presence, you know?”
You’re performing in theaters like the Lyric on your tour. Why do you like performing in theater venues?
“You know, theatres are beautiful. There are a lot of beautiful theatres out there. The Lyric is a great place and Mississippi has a great crowd. Touring is easy if you have a good audience. The key is the audience. We have fantastic audiences.”
How far back are you going with the songs in your shows?
“I write my setlist the day of the show every time. I change it up every time, too. I even change it minutes before we hit the stage if something just wasn’t sitting right with me. Of course, I always slip in my bigger songs that people come to hear, but I like to have a rise and fall of tempos and build-ups. Having a big catalog to choose from is definitely more of a blessing than a curse. That being said, the songs can come from anywhere, anytime.”
Any plans for a new album? (He released a studio album in 2015 and a live album in 2016)
“I am currently working on new music, but haven’t set a release date yet. Back in March, I did a session with LR Baggs with two previously unreleased songs.” (The songs – “Silver Spurs and Gold Tequila” and “The Unknown Fighter” – can be seen on YouTube.)
Any thoughts of slowing down after this tour, or do you want to do this for years to come?
“Not slowing down. In fact, I’m adding stuff in. Last year we premiered Americana Podcast. It all came together because it felt there wasn’t a unified discussion taking place with the genre from the artist’s perspective. A lot of people have seen me over the years and go, ‘I don’t know what you are, but I like it.’ I think a lot of people out there really just aren’t hip to [Americana] at all, they don’t know what it is. The more we talk about, define and expand it, the more people will get on board with it, the stronger it becomes. When you are a touring musician you can become really isolated. I strive to stay in the music periphery and hang in there with [what’s going on]. You can get out in your own solar system, spin out into the universe and never return. I’m always trying rope myself back in. I can feel it when it’s happening. Making records is one thing, but I’ve made a lot of records. There are so many other avenues in the music business to explore in a creative way.”