Kenny Rogers
at Lowell Memorial Auditorium,
Lowell, Mass.
(20 December 2009)

Nothing can put you in the mood for the holidays like a snowy day and an afternoon of seasonal music. This concert came at the perfect time to deliver on both counts.

Veteran songster Kenny Rogers and his eight-piece band rode into northeastern Massachusetts on the heels of a sizable snowstorm that had just come up the East Coast. With six inches of fresh stuff on top of what we had gotten earlier in the month, the atmosphere outside the auditorium was resigned but nevertheless merry. Drivers took their time with some impromptu plowing and sliding at intersections. Pedestrian concertgoers even laughed as they climbed over snow banks to the sidewalks, grabbing at the arms of friends for surer footing. Even so, a few ticket-holders chose not to gamble on the conditions to attend the event. That decision was indeed their loss.

Kenny Rogers offered a "Christmas & Hits" package and a flawless performance. He began with "Love or Something Like It," which he described afterward as "the loudest song I do." Then he told us that the first half of the show would consist of the familiar tunes we expected from him. After a 20-minute intermission, the second half would be, in Kenny's words, "All Christmas, all the time." We cheered. Over the course of the next two and a half hours, he gave us plenty of opportunities to sing along, and he chatted amiably and honestly to the audience. Surely a good time was had by all, including Kenny himself.

Rogers was outfitted in a simple white satiny tunic and black pants. At 71, he is now much thinner than his traditional 1970s-'80s image, and he walks with the slightly stilted gait of an aging cowboy. But the voice is the same. You can close your eyes and easily be transported to just a few decades ago when his music was on the radio all the time.

It was a measured trip down memory lane as he proceeded with "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town," a medley of "Through the Years/You Decorated My Life/She Believes in Me," "Daytime Friends," "Buy Me a Rose" and "Coward of the County." Kenny laughingly admitted that he seemed to be most successful with songs "about dysfunctional families." Then he led us all the way back to 1967 with a psychedelic film clip of The First Edition and "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)." Kenny sang along with himself -- with the brown-haired, not-even-30-years-old-yet person on the screen. It was a synchronized before-and-after moment.

During his career, Rogers recorded a number of duets with female singers. Originally he did Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight" with Sheena Easton. But for this tour he invited country singer Rebecca Lynn Howard to provide his vocal accompaniment. They sang that song together, then Rebecca performed one of her signature songs, "Forgive." After she left the stage, Kenny involved the crowd with a spirited version of the rhythm 'n' blues classic, "Bo Diddley." Then the screens slid down to supply movie clips while Kenny sang "The Gambler." It was fun to return to the Old West and to see him beating up the bad guys again. Of course, we had to sing the catchy chorus for that one, as well as for "Lucille." Then the mood changed and the pace slowed down considerably for "Lady." Written by Lionel Ritchie, the ballad amazingly enough was Rogers' only No. 1 hit. He wound up the first half of the show with a solo effort of the punchy "Islands in the Stream."

After intermission, it was time for Christmas. Since before the start of the show, the front of the stage had been decorated to look like a winter street scene with several evergreen trees, benches, a rail fence and fake snow surrounding it all. (Mother Nature had just done a much better job outside of the auditorium.) Now white lights glowed from the trees and the fence. Occasional wisps of snowflakes floated down from the ceiling. And when the band walked back on stage, most of its members were wearing merry red scarves around their necks.

The music began as Rogers' long-time lead guitarist Randy Dorman plucked out an excellent rendition of "Greensleeves." Then Rebecca Lynn came out and offered "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," "Mistletoe Kisses" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Kenny joined her for "Walkin' in a Winter Wonderland" before she left the stage.

He looked particularly dashing after adding a black vest and pine-green jacket to his ensemble. And he said that our overnight snowfall was the first one he and his band had experienced on this tour -- and that he would certainly think of us enduring such stuff for the rest of the season, after he returned to his home in Atlanta. Kenny talked about holiday traditions between songs as he gave us "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow," "The Christmas Song," "White Christmas" and "My Favorite Things." Once again his fondness for duets surfaced. Wynona Judd appeared on a screen, and together they sang the poignant "Mary Did You Know?" Kenny also sang along with a clip of a gospel choir for a very lively version of "O Come, All Ye Faithful."

Soon afterward, a real choir appeared behind Rogers' band, as the chorus from Worcester's Burncoat High School accompanied the entourage for much of the rest of the performance. With them, Kenny sang "Away in a Manger," "O Holy Night" and "Silent Night." Rebecca Lynn arrived once more to help with "The First Noel," "We Three Kings" and "Joy to the World."

It was left to Kenny to conclude our musical afternoon with "'Til the Season Comes 'Round Again." "Come and gather around at the table / In the spirit of family and friends / And we'll all join hands and remember this moment / 'Til the season comes 'round again." It was indeed a wonderful song and apt seasonal sentiment that perhaps warmed a few hearts as we were launched back into the cold and snow-filled streets of wintry New England.

By the time you read this review, Kenny Rogers' 2009 Christmas & Hits tour will be over. Everyone will have gone home to exchange presents and to drink eggnog. But if you want to recreate the experience for yourself, you have a variety of recordings to choose from. Among them are: Christmas Wishes from Kenny Rogers, a 1995 remastering of his 1981 vinyl release, Kenny Rogers' Christmas; Christmas from the Heart (1998); The Gift (1996); and Once Upon a Christmas, a duet album performed with Dolly Parton that was originally released in 1984. Another option would be to wait until next December to see if Kenny Rogers and his band are scheduled to appear at a venue near you. If that happens to be the case, GO. You won't be disappointed.

by Corinne H. Smith
9 January 2010

[ visit Kenny Rogers' website ]

[ visit Rebecca Lynn Howard's website ]