Though the Ryman Auditorium had its' beginnings as a tabernacle that riverboat captain Tom Ryman had built for revivalist Samuel Porter Jones to preach the word, last night saw two of the biggest crowd reactions coming from songs about gambling and an (almost) love affair. Kenny Rogers brought his The First Fifty Years tour to the historic Music City venue last night, and gave fans an evening of the hits they came to hear – along with a few surprises they might not have expected.
Kicking things off with the energetic 1978 hit "Love Or Something Like It," Rogers had the crowd singing along from the start. It was the first of many classics he delivered throughout the evening, including "If You Want To Find Love," "Coward Of The County," and "We've Got Tonight."
He also tipped his hat to his past – performing several songs made famous while he was the lead singer for the First Edition. Of these, the biggest response came from Alex Harvey's "Reuben James," but he did give a spirited version of the song that brought the band to the proverbial dance – 1967's "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)." After the performance, Rogers went back and recited the second verse of the song, getting a laugh from the audience concerning the song's psychedelic lyrics.
While much of the night was reserved for the hits, Rogers did throw a few curve balls to the audience. "She's A Mystery," a cut from his 1979 disc Kenny, was included, as was Phil Vassar's "It's A Beautiful Life," which he recorded in the early 2000s. He was joined by Kellie Pickler on a duet of "Someone Somewhere Tonight," a song she recently released as a single. Rogers had the original cut on the track – from the 2006 disc Water & Bridges.
Still, it was the signature songs "The Gambler" and "Lucille" that garnered the biggest response of the night. All in all, Rogers gave a performance that – coupled with his October release You Can't Make Old Friends – should leave fans very happy that he "knows when to hold ‘em," rather than "fold ‘em."
The evening was a benefit for Cumberland Heights, an alcohol and drug treatment center in Nashville. CEO Jim Moore said the concert is a huge event for the facility. "The concert is probably the longest running benefit concert in Nashville," he told Billboard. "This is our fifteenth year. Over that time, we have raised over $ 2,000,000 for our adolescent program, and have provided scholarships for a number of those needing treatment." It's a place that is near to Moore's heart. "If you count the time I was here as a patient, it's been 39 years. I went to work there in 1976, and have been CEO since 1990."
Emceeing the evening was WSM-AM morning legend Bill Cody and singer-songwriter John Hiatt, who had high words of praise for the program. "It's one of the best youth programs in the country, and it's definitely one of the best programs that isn't government funded. It's non-profit, but it privately operated, and it's hard to find that set up for kids."
Though Hiatt has been an active part of the event for years, he modestly states his involvement is minimal. "I hardly do anything, the people that make it happen are my manager, Ken Levitan, who does an amazing job finding the people to perform. Walt Quinn, who works at Cumberland Heights, has been a friend of mine for years. His energy to put this together is always amazing to me. Everyone there makes it a great event."