Photos by Glenda S. Paradee
Kenny Rogers Celebrates Memories At Farewell Celebration
'ALL IN FOR THE GAMBLER: KENNY ROGERS FAREWELL CELEBRATION' FULL OF SURPRISES AND EMOTIONAL MOMENTS
Kenny Rogers’ musical career has touched many different styles of music throughout various generations, and his farewell performance to Nashville, All In For The Gambler, served as a reminder of the musical impact that his career has had – and will continue to make for years to come. An all-star cast of Rogers’ contemporaries – and many of today’s hottest musical artists – turned up Wednesday night (October 25) at the Bridgestone Arena in Music City to pay tribute to the Country Music Hall of Fame member, who is in the midst of his farewell tour, “The Gambler’s Last Deal.” Perhaps the most emotional moment of the night belonged to Dolly Parton, who teamed with Rogers one last time on their 1983 hit “Islands In The Stream” after surprising both Rogers – and the audience – with a heartfelt performance of “I Will Always Love You” to her friend and collaborator. The two also reminisced about their lengthy friendship – which dates back to a Rogers appearance on her syndicated TV show from the mid 1970’s – almost a decade before they first teamed up. The two also closed out their performing career together with the Grammy-nominated “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” a single from 2013.
The evening was a mixture of song performances that balanced many of the singer’s iconic hits – as well as many of the early days of Rogers’ career as the lead vocalist of The First Edition. Jamey Johnson paid tribute to the singer’s versatility with a raucous take on Mickey Newbury’s “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” a First Edition hit from five decades ago. The Flaming Lips shined the light on “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town,” with Reba McEntire tipping the hat to the group’s “Reuben James.” Elle King gave a jaw-dropping performance of “Tulsa Turnaround,” one of the First Edition’s lesser-known tracks – that Rogers himself recorded for his 1979 album Kenny. Rogers’ fellow Texan Kris Kristofferson paid tribute to the band’s cover of “Me and Bobby McGee,” which he wrote.
Of course, the main focus of the evening was on the record-setting solo career Rogers embarked on in the mid-1970s, and those hits were on full display during the evening. Justin Moore nodded to the beginning of the singer’s hit making era with “Lucille,” with spellbinding performances taking place from Aaron Lewis ("Coward Of The County", The Oak Ridge Boys (“Love Or Something Like It”), Chris Stapleton (“The Gambler”), Little Big Town ("Through The Years"), and Lady Antebellum (“She Believes In Me”). A special moment took place with the appearance of Don Henley – who once lived with Rogers and his family - to perform the classic “Desperado,” which Rogers cut in 1977 for his Daytime Friends album.
Many of the 80’s and 90’s hits of the singer were featured during The Gambler’s Last Deal as well. Billy Currington delivered a sensual take on “Morning Desire,” with Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley and Idina Menzel teaming up for “We’ve Got Tonight,” a 1983 Rogers hit with Sheena Easton. Two of the singers’ most frequent collaborators figured prominently in this era with appearances with Lionel Richie giving a beautiful take on “’Lady,” a number one Pop and Country hit that he wrote for Kenny’s Greatest Hits album in 1980, and Alison Krauss saluted the singer with a pristine version of his romantic ballad “Love The World Away.” Another incredible performance came from Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott and mother Linda Davis – who has toured extensively with Rogers over the years – uniting on stage for the singer’s 1987 chart-topper “Twenty Years Ago.”
There were several other great musical moments during All In For The Gambler, with Naomi and Wynonna Judd reuniting for “Back To The Well,” and an all-star group of Rogers’ former opening acts paying tribute to the icon with a sing-along performance of his 1982 hit “Blaze Of Glory,” including Travis Tritt, The Gatlin Brothers, Kim Forester, T.G. Sheppard, Crystal Gayle, Lee Greenwood, T. Graham Brown, and Billy Dean.
Kenny Rogers all-star tribute group photo (by Jeremy Westby)
Blackbird Presents' Keith Wortman, creator and executive producer of Nashville's recent highly acclaimed "Sing Me Back Home: The Music of Merle Haggard," is the creator and executive producer of "All In For The Gambler." GRAMMY® Award Winner Don Was served as music director, and presided over a stellar house band backing the performers at this historic concert event taping. Kenny Rogers' manager, Ken Levitan, also served as executive producer. The event was filmed and recorded for multi-platform distribution throughout traditional media (worldwide broadcast, music, and digital).
About Blackbird Presents:
Blackbird Presents is a global media company that produces premium content via a range of strategies including large-scale concert events and festivals, broadcast series and specials, and music releases featuring major music stars across all genres and demographics.
Blackbird's recent concerts, broadcast specials and releases include "Sing Me Back Home: The Music of Merle Haggard," "The Life & Songs of Kris Kristofferson," "Imagine: John Lennon 75th Birthday Concert," "Outlaw: Celebrating The Music of Waylon Jennings," "I'll Take You There: Celebrating 75 Years of Mavis Staples," "The Life and Songs of Emmylou Harris," "Lynyrd Skynyrd: One More For The Fans," "The Musical Mojo of Dr. John: Celebrating Mac and His Music," and "All My Friends: Celebrating The Songs and Voice of Gregg Allman," the latter of which earned a 2014 GRAMMY® Award nomination for Gregg Allman and Taj Mahal's awe-inspiring performance of "Statesboro Blues."
Blackbird Presents is also creator and producer behind the Outlaw Music Festival Tour, in partnership with Willie Nelson; the American Roots Music & Arts Festival, in partnership with Eric Church; and The Last Waltz 40 Tour.
Visit us at www.blackbirdpresents.com
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Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers closed “All In For The Gambler: Kenny Rogers’ Farewell Concert Celebration” at Bridgestone Arena Wednesday night, October 25, 2017, the way their fans love to see them — side by side.
“How about me and you go out like rock stars?” Parton asked Rogers. The longtime friends held their microphones out in front of them, dropped them on stage and walked off arm-in-arm.
It was a definite ending to a night that was filled with sentimental moments and music’s biggest stars performing Rogers’ most famous songs. The concert was billed as the last time Parton and Rogers would perform their seminal duet Islands in the Stream. However, before the show, Parton maintained she wasn’t going to let Rogers retire completely.
“I’m just going to let him retire from the public and then we might even write some songs together, who knows?” Parton said.
“Oh man,” Rogers replied excitedly. “I didn’t think of that.”
Later, she brought audience members to tears when she spoke of her adoration for Rogers.
“I know I’m artificial, but I like to think my heart is real,” Parton told Rogers before she serenaded him with I Will Always Love You. "I have a spot (in my heart) for you that’s never ever going to be touched by anybody else." Rogers, who struggles to stand for more than a few minutes at a time, soaked in Parton’s performance from a stool beside her.
He took a moment to thank the audience and the night’s performers. Parton asked him if he was ready for their final Islands in the Stream, then quoted the song saying there is no one with whom she’d rather sail away.
Parton was one of more than 20 artists who took the stage to honor Rogers, who in 2015 revealed plans to retire after a final tour that ends later this year. Rogers, 79, and his wife Wanda watched from chairs on the side of the stage as performers ranging from Kris Kristofferson, Chris Stapleton, Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town to Lionel Richie, The Flaming Lips and Elle King honored Rogers.
Rogers’ music career stretches 60 years, more than 30 studio albums, and included 24 No. 1 hits, six CMA Awards and three Grammys. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013 and was voted the "Favorite Singer of All Time" in a joint poll by readers of both USA TODAY and People. He was a member of rock group Kenny Rogers and the First Edition from 1967-1976, and his former bandmates joined him on stage for a quick picture with the audience in the background.The show’s creator and executive producer, Keith Wortman, said the diverse lineup for the farewell celebration was carefully vetted. He explained he “cast a wide net” for potential singers and that when they responded, he asked how long they’ve been a fan and how The Gambler singer influenced their lives. He said the unexpected additions of King and The Flaming Lips stemmed from their love of First Edition songs.
I’m really excited to sing and see the show,” said King, who covered First Edition’s Tulsa Turnaround.” “I don’t know who said no or got kicked out so I got in, but I’ll take it.”
Rogers’ connection with the night’s other performers is much deeper.
Chris Stapleton covered Rogers’ signature hit The Gambler, on the back of which he built his acting career. The song inspired a successful television miniseries that served as his acting debut. Five additional television movies — all starring Rogers as gambler Brady Hawkes — followed, along with the 1982 major motion picture Six Pack among other acting projects. Rogers appeared alongside Naomi Judd of The Judds on one of The Gambler projects, and she and daughter Wynonna Judd reunited for Wednesday night’s concert.
“We’re family here in Nashville. We stick together,” said Wynonna, who sang You Turn the Light On before her mother Naomi Judd joined her for a performance of Back to the Well.
Reba McEntire — who wore a bright yellow Kenny Rogers T-shirt while she sang his Reuben James — described the backstage area as a “family reunion.”
Rogers’ relationship with Nashville dates back to the 1970s when Lucille became his first substantial hit as a solo artist and crossed over to top the country charts. Justin Moore performed the song for Rogers on Wednesday night, having traveled from his home state of Arkansas with his wife and children and learned the song on two days’ notice.
Richie flew in from Australia to sing Lady for his longtime friend to whom he gives credit for launching his solo career. Rogers acknowledged Richie for writing Lady from the stage during a country music awards show decades ago. The spotlight swung from Rogers to Richie’s seat in the audience, and the Hello singer said that was the moment his solo career took root.
“At that moment, I had a person to be my mentor because he was also in a group then transitioned to a solo act,” said Richie. “He answered every question I had. So, he’s very special.”
The Oak Ridge Boys also credit Rogers with launching their career. Before opening the show with Love or Something Like It, Oak Ridge Boy Joe Bonsall said Rogers took the group on country music’s first arena tour.
“Believe me, we learned a lot from Kenny,” Bonsall said. “Production-wise, song-wise, entertainment-wise, we learned all of that from Kenny.”
Linda Davis said there were “so many levels of special” about the evening. She’s on tour with Rogers now, and Davis’ daughter Hillary Scott from Lady Antebellum joined her on stage to sing Twenty Years Ago. Davis said it was “bizarre” how he was now helping a second generation of her family.
“He’s a part of our family,” Davis said. “It looks we are winding it down, that’s what farewell is. But tonight is celebrating all of these years and all of these relationships, and let’s not forget the fans. Because the fans, that’s why he’s been here this many decades and I see it every night.”
Love or Something Like It
(with The Oak Ridge Boys)
(with Elle King)
Blaze of Glory
(with Billy Dean, Kim Forester, T. Graham Brown, Rudy Gatlin, Steve Gatlin, Crystal Gayle, Lee Greenwood, T.G. Sheppard and Travis Tritt)
Coward Of The County
(with Aaron Lewis)
Twenty Years Ago
(with Hillary Scott & Linda Davis)
(with Billy Currington)
(with Justin Moore)
You Turn the Light On
Back to the Well
(with The Judds-Wynonna & Naomi)
Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town
(with The Flaming Lips)
(with Reba McEntire)
Sweet Music Man
(with Jamey Johnson)
Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)
(with Jamey Johnson)
Love the World Away
(with Alison Krauss)
Me and Bobby McGee
(with Kris Kristofferson)
She Believes in Me
(with Lady Antebellum)
Through the Years
(with Little Big Town)
(with Don Henley)
You Decorated My Life
(with Idina Menzel)
We've Got Tonight
(with Idina Menzel & Charles Kelley)
(with Lionel Richie)
(with Chris Stapleton)
You Can't Make Old Friends
(with Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton)
I Will Always Love You
(Dolly sung to Kenny)
Islands In The Stream
(with Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton)
Thanks For The Music Kenny!
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