On the Road

Lyle Lovett & Robert Earl Keen Bring a Taste of Texas to New England

Lyle Lovett & Robert Earl Keen
Merrill Auditorium
Portland, Maine
September 30, 2016

In 1952, Erwin Schrödinger first floated the idea of the multiverse, in which different realities occur simultaneously with each other. So it’s comforting, in a way, to believe in an alternate dimension where Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen are chart-topping country artists playing football stadiums on the regular.

In this same reality, "Florida Georgia Line" only exists as a cartographer’s term.

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Lovett and Keen knows something of their extensive shared history. Both attended Texas A&M in the 1970s and became friends, often playing together on Keen’s porch on Church Street in Bryan. Both have enjoyed acclaimed careers, but have remained faithful ambassadors for Texas, the state that plays a central role in many of their songs and which both men still call home.

So naturally I had to go all the way to Portland, Maine, to see their tour.

Merrill Auditorium in Portland is a fairly cozy venue, seating fewer than 2,000 people. It was about three-quarters full for Lovett and Keen, but any scarcity in numbers was more than made up for by the pair’s easygoing banter and, of course, their music.

The setup couldn’t have been more unassuming; two singers, two chairs, four guitars. The two traded songs for about two hours, playing familiar cuts (“The Front Porch Song,” “If I Had a Boat,” “She’s No Lady”) and a few left-field selections. They occasionally accompanied each other, with Lovett doing the bulk of the harmonizing, and teamed up for a version of “T for Texas,” the Jimmie Rodgers classic.

Somewhat surprising, considering the locale, was the crowd’s apparent familiarity with (or at least tolerance of) the pair’s many anecdotes and jokes about Texas and – especially – their shared hometown of Houston (Lovett attended Klein High School; Keen went to Sharpstown).

Of the two, Keen seemed a little less comfortable with the setup. Lovett is obviously more at ease with the stage-banter thing, while Keen, dry wit notwithstanding, is probably happier with a full band accompanying him. Or it might have been his shiny silver suit; that thing was probably visible from the space station.

The duo comes to Texas later this year, but no closer to Houston than a two-night stand November 1 and 2 at Galveston's Grand 1894 Opera House. Even so, you should do yourself a favor and seek this show out. It’s rare that two consummate singer-songwriters play such an intimate show, much less sharing a stage to do so.

Personal Bias: Leans more REK than LL, and happy to hear two faves of his: “Gringo Honeymoon” and “Corpus Christi Bay” live once again.

The Crowd: The Portland chapter of the AARP was well-represented.

Overheard In The Crowd: "Texas A&M is in Austin, isn't it?"

Random Notebook Dump: "I should have expected the Longhorn jokes." 
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar