Trains, twang and Texas: Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen

Tahoe Onstage

Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen entertain a sold-out crowd at the South Shore Room in Harrah’s.
Larry Sabo / Tahoe Onstage

Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett made a memorable evening for Harrah’s concertgoers Saturday, entrancing and enthralling a packed South Shore Room with a night of top-notch entertainment.

The two Texas musicians appeared to roaring applause, taking a stage that held simply two chairs and six guitars on their stands.

“I hope you’re having as much luck as we are, because we sure are lucky to be here with you,” Lovett said as he took a seat. “I can see the casino from here, it gives me hope.”

Lovett kicked things off with his tune “Record Lady”” the opening lyrics of which are, appropriately enough, “Robert Earl Keen is a friend of mine.” The crowd was soon moving in its seats, twisting and shimmying to the mellow, bluesy number.

“It is my pleasure to introduce my actual friend, since 1978, Mr. Robert Earl Keen,” Lovett said over the applause as he finished the tune and his colleague launched into the rocking bar tune “Feeling Good Again.”

The sold-out crowd was all in on the duo, cheering and clapping thunderously at the end of each tune and with good reason. Lovett and Keen put on an absolutely absorbing performance, alternating upbeat and slow tunes, light-hearted and whimsical, and with a full dose of stories and jokes in between songs.

“This is a song that Robert first played for me on his porch, in 1980,” Lovett said before the two shared Keen’s “Rolling By” as a duet. “I told him I wouldn’t leave until he taught it to me. That was incentive enough, so he did.”

Indeed, humor is a big part of an Evening with Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen. Aside from the steady stream of anecdotes, the two share a knack for tongue-in-cheek songwriting, unmistakable in Lovett’s “She’s No Lady, She’s My Wife” and “I Married Her Because She Looks Like You,” or in Keen’s “It’s the Little Things” and “Wireless in Heaven.”

The crowd was a little overly engaged at times, with one merrymaker spoiling the punchline of some onstage repartee about wives and finding the right or wrong woman by yelling “you guys are smart” in earnest, if slurred approval. But perhaps that’s to be expected among fans of these performers. As Keen said of their earlier days “we weren’t in a bar every night of the week, but we were there five nights a week.”

This writer got to hear some of his favorite tunes, particularly Keen’s “Merry Christmas from the Families,” a heart-warming portrayal of a real family Christmas (think the Griswolds, but set in Texas), an all-time family favorite. Lovett’s “If I Had a Boat” was another hit, a silly, nonsensical, thoroughly wonderful piece.

Another standout moment was Lovett’s performance of “Ballad of the Snow Leopard and the Tanqueray Cowboy,” penned by late Texas musician David Rodriguez. Shot through with beautiful imagery, one line of the song in particular stood out as apropos to the evening: “I’m a poet and I’m bound to walk the line between real and sublime and give the muses back their own.”

The set ended with “This Old Porch,” a song written by Keen and modified by Lovett, in homage to the porch at Keen’s college house, on which the two musicians first met, and strummed, picked and sang with many others.

After a brief departure, the two songwriters returned to deafening cheers, whistles and catcalls that died down instantly in anticipation of another song or two.

The two did not disappoint, with a two-part shout-out to their home state, starting with Jimmie Rodgers’ “T for Texas,” and giving way to Guy Clark’s “Texas, 1947,” another favorite of mine.

“Screaming straight through Texas like a mad dog cyclone,” Clark wrote, describing the experience of seeing a modern train as a young boy.

As far as Lovett and Keen go, we’re sure glad their train made a Tahoe stop.

– Josh Sweigert

About Josh Sweigert

Josh grew up on the California coast with a deep appreciation for bluegrass and string band music as well as the great outdoors. A guitarist and singer, he plays solo acoustic gigs in South Lake Tahoe.

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