Keen ready to headline Elvis Festival tonight

TUPELO – There’s no rest for the wicked and no rest for Robert Earl Keen.
The troubadour stays on the road, for the most part, taking his brand of Texas-soaked country all over the world. A singer-songwriter since the early 1980s, Keen has made a name for himself as a hard-working road warrior.
“I feel like, you know how you’re in school, and then you have finals and it’s over? It’s like I’ve been in school for 10 years and I’ve never had the finals,” Keen said in a phone interview from his home in Kerrville, Texas. “As soon as you think, ‘Oh, I’ve got all those gigs out of the way,’ it’s time to go back and record. It’s always going.”
That’s where Keen is now. He has a roster of gigs to keep him busy this summer, and then he heads back into the studio later this year to record the follow-up to his 2009 album, “The Rose Hotel.”
He may be longing for a vacation, but he’s excited about headlining the Tupelo Elvis Presley Festival.
“I feel like I have a connection with the stripped down, white-boy blues,” Keen said, noting he especially loves Elvis’ early work. “If there’s an affinity for what Elvis did, it would certainly be that early sort of transposing some old gospel and blues into pop songs.”
Folks unfamiliar with Keen’s country twang will get a tutorial at the festival. Keen said he expects to play songs that will be a good introduction to his sound, and then “morph into what we do as a band, which is play together really well.”
Keen has been playing with his band for 15 years.
“At that point, it’s no more thinking,” he said. “The music takes over, and you hope the audience can hang on for the ride.”
While Keen enjoys the studio, playing live is where he feels the most comfortable.
“There’s nothing greater in my life…than getting up on stage and playing to people. I feel like that’s what I was born to do,” he said. “We go out there and bang it out – sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s great.”
Keen invited music fans to check him out in Tupelo for more than just the music.
“Come see me,” he said, “so I can tell my one Elvis joke.”

Elvis Fest Info
What: Tupelo Elvis Presley Festival at Fairpark
When: 5 p.m. Friday, Noon Saturday
Where: Fairpark stage, Tupelo
Cost: $17/gate
Info: (662) 841-6598 or tupeloelvisfestival.com

Sheena Barnett/NEMS Daily Journal