On September 25, 2015, enduring Country Music Hall of Fame member and Grammy Award-winning pop singer and songwriter Kenny Rogers announced on NBC's Today Show that he was retiring from show business after a final world tour (The Gambler’s Last Deal) to spend more time with his family.
The good news is that final tour also included Manila (he also performed in Singapore and Bangkok) where he serenaded his Filipino fans for the first and last time in a one-night only concert presented by Ovation Productions at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Kenny Rogers has enjoyed great success during his storied career, playing to millions of fans around the world and performing songs from his catalog of 24 No. 1 hits and selling more than 120 million albums worldwide.
His various awards include three Grammy Awards, 19 American Music Awards, 11 People’s Choice Awards, eight Academy of Country Music Awards and six Country Music Association Awards, including the CMA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. In 2015, Rogers was awarded the CMT Artist of a Lifetime Award. Incredibly, Rogers has charted a record within each of the last seven decades (’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, 2000s, 2010s) , making him one of the top ten best selling male solo artists of all time.
Traffic gridlock along EDSA and parking woes made me late for the show’s front act which featured OPM artist Aiza Seguerra (not the advertized Willie Nepomuceno) but I made it in time for the main act. It being a one-night only concert (plus the first and last time Kenny will do a concert here), the venue was nearly full, the audience consisting of both old and not so old. The concert started promptly at 9 PM with a video commentary on Kenny’s stint with The First Edition. Soon after, Kenny made his entry, hobbling towards his seat at the center of the stage, then singing “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” a hit of his with this aforementioned band.
In between songs, the 77 year old Kenny regaled audiences, backed up by pictures and videos at the video wall, with important episodes of his amazing, six decade (he is celebrating the 60th anniversary of his music career this year) long career – how he first began recording in the 1950s, with a rockabilly band called the Scholars as well as the jazz group The Bobby Doyle Trio, but didn’t achieve success until 1967, when he co-founded The First Edition, and then going solo in 1976. He also recounted that he used the screen name “Kenny Rogers” after being told that his birth name, Kenneth Ray Rogers, was too formal.
He also injected a lot of humor by mocking his age for sharp, self-deprecating laughs - talking about having his knee replaced, but thought his doctor had perhaps replaced the wrong knee. He also told the crowd not to rush to his rescue if he fell, because he had Life Alert (an emergency response company).
He also talked about how "very disappointing" it was to see the "101"-year-old Mick Jagger dancing like he was 16 at the Glastonbury Festival in 2013, and how Willie Nelson earned a black belt the day before his 81st birthday. Kenny’s theory for why he didn't have their stamina: "I didn't do enough drugs in the '60s."
In between anecdotes and jokes, the songs came pouring in – “Walking My Baby Back Home” (a jazz standard he usually sang with The Bobby Doyle Three),” “Through The Years” (one of the greatest wedding/anniversary songs of all time in any genre of music), “You Decorated My Life,” “She Believes In Me,” “Something’s Burning;” a shortened, square rendition of the ersatz The First Edition psychedelic song “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In);” the USA For Africa anthem “We Are The World” (a song co-written by King of Pop, Michael Jackson), and “Love Lifted Me.”
He even described “Lucille” as “the song that changed my life in music.”
His setlist also included “Every Time Two Fools Collide”(originally a duet with the late Dottie West whom describes as an artist who is “such a joy to work with”); “Coward of the County;” “Love Will Turn You Around;” “Heroes” (from his Broadway musical “The Toy Shoppe”); the heart-rending, honest and sweet sounding “You Are So Beautiful” (a song he dedicated to the crowd and to his treasured 12 year identical twin sons Jordan and Justin, by his fifth wife Wanda); “The Gambler” (one of the most popular singalong songs in the world); the heartfelt love song “Lady,” “Islands in the Stream” (originally a duet with Dolly Parton) and, during his encore (he didn’t leave the stage as he jokingly said “I might not be able to come back”), “You Can’t Make Old Friends” (also originally with Dolly Parton).
Guest performer that night was Linda Davis, his good friend from the country music scene, who smoothly sang “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” “A Lesson in Leavin’,” and “Daytime Friends.”
Kenny also did duets with Linda, performing “But You Know I Love You,” (a 1969 pop hit with The First Edition), “Anyone Who Isn’t Me Tonight” (also originally recorded with Dottie West) and “We’ve Got Tonight” (originally recorded with Sheena Easton)
Through much of the 24-song, 80-minute concert, Kenny’s voice was flat and thin, giving out a few times. When he aimed to hit the exuberant high note in "Through the Years," his voice seemed to crash and burn into a sour squawk. He also seemed to have forgotten some of the lyrics of his songs. Recognizing his shortcomings, Rogers at the beginning joked “We're going to need all the help we can get." He wasn't kidding.
However, despite Kenny’s technically lackluster performance, the concert was well-received as this was a very forgiving Filipino crowd. Kenny seemed grateful for our help as the crowd just can’t help but clap and sing. Truly, this concert has endeared him to Pinoy music lovers with his amazing songs, heartfelt performance, distinctive gravelly voice, gift for storytelling and universal appeal. At the end of the show, Kenny said “I thank you guys for the support for the past 60 years. Thank you so much, everybody here, I really appreciate it. I will miss you, guys!”
The man who sang the iconic “The Coward of the County,” is finally heeding the song’s advice – “Learn to Walk Away.”
The encore song “Blaze of Glory,” a hyped up song performed with Linda, very much fittingly capped off a great farewell concert from the well-loved and undisputed king of crossover country music. Its lyrics say it all:
Let’s go out in a blaze of glory
All good things must end
Like two heroes in a story
Let’s go out like we came in
In a blaze of glory