At The Races with Robert Earl Keen

April 14, 2007

There’s a big race down in Dallas.
Don’t you wish that you were there?
You can bet your bottom dollar
On that iron grey mare.
Won’t you bet on Stewball? – She might win, win, win.
Bet on Stewball  – She might win.

There weren’t any big races in Dallas on Saturday; just a starter handicap, a couple allowances and a bunch of maiden and claiming races. Elsewhere, there was the Arkansas Derby, but that was in Hot Springs.

The big feature at Lone Star Park was the Robert Earl Keen show after the day’s race program.

Coincidentally, the last time I saw Robert Earl was at a racetrack in Fredericksburg. That was at an ancient quarter horse track with wooden stands and two dollar beers. Lone Star Park, on the other hand, is a much newer state of the art racing facility; even if it does, at a distance, look like some drunken hillbilly’s idea of an Arabian pleasure palace out in the middle of a Grand Prairie swamp.

It’s also a pretty decent venue for a concert when they book a worthwhile act. Of course, those are few and far between. The night before Foreigner was scheduled to play some of their boring dinosaur rock but I’m pretty sure the tornadoes and hailstorms that swept through the area Friday night squashed that one.

At least it didn’t rain Saturday and Robert Earl managed to draw a sizable crowd despite the bitterly cold wind. Judging by the beer spray flying through the air and the beer cans and bottles littering the grounds and the whiskey bottles being passed around and the general rowdiness of the audience, the cold probably didn’t bother too many people there.

After an opening set by Oklahoma’s Eli Young Band, Robert Earl kicked things off with Stewball, from his all acoustic The Live Album. It was the all too obvious choice.

So was the Texas Rangers ball cap he wore.

The sound at Lone Star is surprisingly good in certain places. They set up the stage at the edge of the track facing the main building and the simulcast pavilion and it creates a perfect little acoustic chamber in a couple of spots.

Plus it’s really loud.

Robert Earl has the whole live show thing down (4 of his 14 commercial releases are live records). And Saturday’s show was much enhanced by Danny Barnes of Bad Livers on banjo. Songs like Stewball, Gringo Honeymoon, Five Pound Bass, Long Chain, and even Road Goes On Forever sounded better with a little banjo treatment.

Of course there was a lot of audience sing-along as well. Songs like I’m Coming Home, Feeling Good Again, and The Buckin’ Song are just made to be sung by an audience. And a mostly drunk audience is even better.

I was hoping for a sloppy track Saturday after the Friday night storms. A lot of times a wet, muddy track turns the odds upside down and you can win big on longshot horses that wouldn’t have a chance in hell otherwise.

That didn’t happen, but after losing the few meager bets I did place, I got to down a few and see a great show with a sloppy audience so it wasn’t a total loss after all.

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