By Yasmine Shemesh
Kenny Rogers is perhaps the most charming man on the face of this earth. Performing for a packed house at the River Rock Show Theatre on Friday night (well, really, where else would The Gambler play other than a casino?), Rogers delivered an evening that was filled equally with hilarity, nostalgia, and a big ol’ helping of heart.
For a 76-year-old man whose illustrious career has spanned nearly six decades, the country music legend showed no intention of folding his hand as he dealt hits ranging from early days with the First Edition to last year’s You Can’t Make Old Friends.
The show was peppered with sweet anecdotes (his friendship with Dolly Parton), cracks at his age (“I wasn’t always this old”), and hysterical audience ribbing (to the elderly woman sitting about eight rows back with massive binoculars, “What are you trying to see?”), but nobody got the roasting worse than Don, the hapless husband whom Rogers picked out instantly. Don’t feel too sorry for him, though — for every song he could recognize during the entire 90 minute set, Rogers flicked him a $10 bill. Don walked away about $120 richer, with an autographed t-shirt to boot.
Rogers jumped right in, opening with “Love or Something Like It” before humbly greeting his cheering fans. “I’m not too steady on my feet,” he said, sitting down on a stool at centre stage. “I just got my knee replaced and I think they got the wrong knee. Gonna sit more than I normally do. Gonna do most of the hits so Don can make some money.”
Rogers’ croon was gently husky yet loaded with power on “We’ve Got Tonight” and “She Believes in Me,” the latter admittedly his favourite ballad of his from the ’80s. After breaking out into the hallucinogenic anthem “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” he went over its tripped-out lyrics (“I pushed my soul in a deep dark hole and then I followed it in / I watched myself crawlin’ out as I was a-crawlin’ in”) coming to the conclusion, “I think we can all agree they just don’t make songs like that anymore.” And though Rogers was mostly seated for the length of the show, it didn’t dare diminish his presence — rock-charged “Something’s Burning” was nothing short of scorching and sing-a-longs like “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” got him up and grooving across the stage, finger snapping and all.
With his effortless charisma, musical versatility, and masterful showmanship (not to mention 120-plus hit singles and over 165 million sold records) there’s a good reason why Rogers is the icon that he is. He transformed into a swaggering cowboy for “The Gambler,” his voice rich with twang as the backdrop visuals played an ass-kicking highlight reel from the film of the same name. The crowd yee-hawed, sang loudly, and clapped enthusiastically, leaping out of their seats for a standing ovation. A rousing rendition of “Lucille” got similar treatment. The night closed with the Rogers and Parton gem “Islands in the Stream,” where the entertainer tossed tambourines into an aisle-dancing audience; a fitting celebratory finale to a performance that Don — and the rest of us — won’t soon forget.
Published online at www.vancitybuzz.com, October 2014