The Road Ends: Robert Earl Keen Announces Retirement from Touring

Robert Earl Keen is much more than just a songwriter from Texas. In Texas and beyond, he’s an institution. While the foundations were being laid for the emergence of Red Dirt in Stillwater, Oklahoma, Robert Earl Keen was creating a template for how Texas artists could be supported that was decidedly separate from Nashville. It was “Texas music,” where an artist could work a complete touring circuit, and enjoy local and regional radio play without enduring the rigors of the Music Row system.

But of course, without the songs of Robert Earl Keen, none of that would be possible. The consummate storyteller, it was the song “The Road Goes on Forever” for his 1989 album West Textures that put him on the map for many. A little over a decade later, “Feeling Good Again” gave him another signature song, while in between he put together a career that can only be called legendary, and challenged his fellow songwriters. Robert Earl Keen is the reason that if you want to play in Texas, you don’t always need a fiddle, but you do need to know how to write a song.

But now the road has ended for Robert Earl Keen, at least when it comes to touring.

In a video released on Friday, January 14th (see below), Keen address his fans saying, “It is with a mysterious concoction of joy and sadness that I want to tell you as of September 4th, 2022, I will no longer tour or perform publicly. I plan to continue to write songs, interview a wide variety of celebrities and contributors for our Americana podcast. I also embrace this as an opportunity to further support the music community, and the ever-expanding body of young talent on our horizon.”

Making sure to underscore, “I’m not sick, or experiencing some existential crisis,” he assures, “I feel that making a decision, and quitting the road while I still love it is the way I want to leave it.”

Just as much rock and folk as country, his music is distinctly Robert Earl Keen, uncommitted to genre, but deeply committed to the song, however it comes out. Born in Houston and keen on literature, he grew up influenced by Cream and Willie Nelson all the same. Attending Texas A&M University where he would bunk for a while with Lyle Lovett, this is where the music bug would bite him, and many hours were spent playing folk and bluegrass around the house and out about town.

His move to Austin in 1978 is where the career got its start in places like the Cactus Cafe, and Gruene Hall down in New Braunfels. In 1983, he won the prestigious New Folk competition at the Kerrville Folk Festival, and the next year released his debut album No Kinda Dancer.

But keen observers of Robert Earl will tell you that over the last few years, perhaps a sense of boredom had overtaken him, maybe a “done it all” syndrome of sorts. He hadn’t released a proper original studio album in some 11 years. His 2015 album Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions did what it could to keep things fun for Keen, similar to his side project with Randy Rogers in incognito mode called The Stryker Brothers from 2018.

During the pandemic, Robert Earl Keen took out a 2nd mortgage so he could continue to pay his band. He’s also talked about an upcoming album that still may be on the horizon called Western Chill.

“There is no way to inventory the fantastic amount of incredible people that have have touched my life,” Keen says. “My family, friends, band members, fans, co-workers, teachers, advisors, confidants, and peers only begin to tell the story. I feel connected to every one of them. If I could picture them in a blink of an eye, like snapping a photograph, I’m connected, and I do believe it’s the people that come in and out of your life that make life worth living.”

Robert Earl Keen says he will play shows up to September 4th, 2022, and his final tour will be capped off by a succession of shows at Floore’s Country Store in Helotes, TX. More details when they are available.

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