During his nearly 60-year career, Kenny Rogers has starred in movies, helmed roasted chicken chains, mastered photography and absolutely slayed in what might be the funniest car insurance commercial ever made .
He also ruled the radio charts with a procession of hits that frequently met at the intersection of country, pop and gospel and remain jukebox classics.
But now the man who waltzed with us during “Lucille” and tenderly carried us “Through the Years” is going all in with his final tour, dubbed “The Gambler’s Last Deal.”
On Sunday night, Rogers, who turns 78 in August, played his final show in his current hometown to a 2/3rds full Chastain Park Amphitheatre. Under a gorgeous full moon and an unusually tolerable temperature, he and his longtime band rolled through nearly two hours of musical memories, starting with his 1969 chestnut with The First Edition, “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” through the big band swing of “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home” from his time with the Bobby Doyle Three to his greatest hits of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Though his voice croaked more than crooned and key changes in songs such as “Through the Years” might want to be reconsidered as this two-year run of shows continues, Rogers was an engaging host.
A knee replacement has rendered him nearly immobile – a fact he shared immediately after inching across the stage to the chair where he remained for much of the show (“I think they replaced the wrong damn knee!” he joked wryly). But what Rogers has lost in physical movement and vocal range, he compensates for with his abilities as a natural storyteller who possesses a standup’s comedic timing.
Augmenting the show, along with his six-piece band of polished pros, was a trio of video screens set atop faux granite. Since this is Rogers’ final lap, it’s obviously important for him to revisit the numerous highlights that made him one of country music’s most popular and enduring stars.
An Ed Sullivan clip introduced “Something’s Burning” and Rogers sang along with vintage footage of himself for the rock-edged “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” A Muppets sighting accompanied “Love Lifted Me” and the audience happily raised their smartphone lights to sway along to a snippet of “We Are the World.”
Country journeywoman Linda Davis (who, trivia alert, is mom to Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum) joined Rogers for several songs, including a frisky duet on “Anyone Who Isn’t Me Tonight” and what Rogers pegged his “favorite” duet, “We’ve Got Tonight,” originally performed with Sheena Easton.
Davis is a powerhouse vocalist ( dial up her 1993 vocal catfight with Reba McEntire on “Does He Love You” for further proof) and her presence always livened up the show.
Rogers also seemed to brighten when talking about his photography hobby – many of his visual works streamed on the screens during the bluesy ballad, “‘Merica” – and as he edged into his signature song, the one that spawned a series of TV movies (and prompted many self-deprecating comments about his acting abilities) and still delights with its vivid lyrics and whistle-worthy chorus.
Yes, we’re talking about “The Gambler.”
It’s been an extraordinary career that Rogers is choosing to close at the right time and on his own terms.
So yes, that means he knows it’s time to fold ‘em.