Farewell Performance Brings Out the Stars
It was a night to remember for both Kenny Rogers and his fans. Rogers announced his plans to retire last year, much to the chagrin of his generations of fans. But no retirement is complete without a final tour, and Rogers has been on the road since he made the bittersweet announcement.
“I thought it was going to be easy because I’m so tired and it’s not as easy for me to get around. I’m not as mobile as I used to be,” he told Billboard. But “I go through a chronological look at my life that includes all my music. To go back and recap is very exciting for me.”
“The Gambler’s Last Deal” tour made its final stop in Nashville at Bridgestone Arena earlier this year and included a star-studded lineup of musical icons performing his hits through the decades. The evening was a mixture of song performances that balanced many of Rogers’ iconic hits with music from the early days of his career as the lead vocalist of The First Edition. Jamey Johnson performed a First Edition hit from five decades ago, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” The Flaming Lips shined the light on “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town,” and Reba McEntire tipped her 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.” And fellow Texan Kris Kristofferson paid tribute to the band’s cover of “Me and Bobby McGee,” which he also wrote.
Of course, the main focus of the evening was on the record-setting solo career Rogers embarked on in the mid-1970s. Justin Moore nodded to the beginning of the singer’s hit-making era with “Lucille,” followed by spellbinding performances 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 singer’s ’80s and ’90s hits also had the crowd singing along, including Billy Currington 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 Rogers’ most frequent collaborators also performed. Lionel Richie sang “’Lady,” a No. 1 pop and country hit that he wrote for Rogers’ “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 impressive musical moments with Naomi and Wynonna Judd reuniting for “Back To The Well,” and an all-star group of Rogers’ former memorable opening acts paying tribute to the icon with a singalong performance of his 1982 hit “Blaze Of Glory.” The group included Travis Tritt, The Gatlin Brothers, Kim Forester, T.G. Sheppard, Crystal Gayle, Lee Greenwood, T. Graham Brown and Billy Dean.
But 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 dear longtime friend and collaborator. The two also reminisced about their friendship, which dates back to a Rogers appearance on her syndicated TV show from the mid-1970s—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.
“I’ve done everything I set out to do,” Rogers explained to Billboard. “Every goal I’ve set, I’ve done that, and there’s a point where you have to say, ‘I’ve had my turn. Let someone else have it,’ and that’s kind of where I am.”
What a turn it’s been. We will certainly miss Kenny Rogers.