Music City came out Wednesday night (Oct. 25) to honor the career of one of America’s most beloved entertainers as Kenny Rogers made his final concert appearance in Nashville, for a special night of celebration and music titled All In For The Gambler. But, for the most part on this stop at Bridgestone Arena, the Country Music Hall of Famer was a spectator as a mixture of current superstars and longtime fan favorites showcased some of their favorite musical moments of the Houston, TX native’s career.
The evening was broken into three different portions, with The Oak Ridge Boys — who participated in the first Country Music arena tour with Rogers and Dottie West turning back the hands of time to 1978 with “Love Or Something Like It,” urging the sold-out crowd to sing along. Other top moments of the first part of the show was a deliciously raunchy version of “Tulsa Turnaround,” a lesser-known Rogers song from his days with The First Edition, from Elle King. Justin Moore delighted the crowd with “Lucille,” the song that launched the career of Rogers on the country charts in 1977. Billy Currington delivered a spot-on performance of “Morning Desire,” and Jamey Johnson performed two songs from the Rogers files that couldn’t have been more different: the introspective classic “Sweet Music Man,” and “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” a hit for the singer with The First Edition in 1967.
The evening included a reunion for The Judds, with Wynonna stunning those in attendance with a soaring version of “You Turn The Light On,” a track from 1979’s million-selling Kenny disc, before bringing mother Naomi out for a tip of the hat to Rogers’ 2003 track “Back To The Well.” Perhaps the highlight of the first segment was a stunning version of the singer’s 1987 hit “Twenty Years Ago” from Linda Davis, Rogers’ touring partner, and her daughter, Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott.
After a brief intermission, Rogers was called by the stage to receive several proclamations, including one designating Oct. 25 as “Kenny Rogers Day” in Nashville from the office of Mayor Megan Barry. But, the focus of the evening would quickly veer back to the music, as Alison Krauss serenaded Rogers and the crowd with a gorgeous take on “Love The World Away,” while Kris Kristofferson paid tribute to Kenny’s cover of his song “Me and Bobby McGgee.” Lionel Richie surprised the crowd with an appearance to perform “Lady,” and Chris Stapleton handled the duties on Rogers’ musical calling card, 1978’s “The Gambler.” But the segment belonged to Lady Antebellum’s clever re-creation of “She Believes In Me,” making the song work as a duet, Little Big Town’s thoughtful performance of “Through The Years,” and Idina Menzel. The Tony and Oscar-winning performer rolled through a flawless version of “You Decorated My Life” before knocking “We’ve Got Tonight” out of the ballpark – or Bridgestone Arena in a duet with Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley.
After the second segment, the video screen began to play a live performance clip of “Real Love,” a Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton hit from 1985. The two then came out on stage to reminisce about their friendship – with Parton doing her best to try to embarrass her duet partner, getting laughs from Rogers and the audience. The two then performed their 2013 single “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” and Parton then surprised Rogers with a version of her “I Will Always Love You.” The two wound up their performance career together with a nod back to 1983’s million-selling “Islands In The Stream” before walking off the stage together.
Before the show, artists were sharing their memories of the Country Music Hall of Fame member, and Hillary Scott was no different. “There’s been a lot of different facets to my relationship with Kenny. I’ve known him for almost 20 years, before anything was happening with Lady A. In seventh grade, Steve Glassmeyer, his band leader, his daughter Gracie is one of my best friend since growing up together, we went to his property outside of Atlanta on my seventh-grade spring break. He likes to say that I wrecked one of his golf carts, but I did not. I wasn’t even a passenger,” she recalled with a laugh. Scott recalled that the trio went on an overseas tour run with Rogers just prior to releasing their worldwide smash “Need You Now.” She said when it comes to giving younger artists a chance to impress the crowd, there is nobody better. “He’s always looking for every opportunity to encourage and inspire, and share his nuggets of wisdom that he has learned.”
Parton said that she knows she will be forever linked musically to Rogers — not that there’s anything wrong with that. “I couldn’t be any happier to be tagged with someone like Kenny. He’s a wonderful man, a wonderful singer, and a wonderful duet partner. My heart will always be with Kenny. We’re still going to be buddies.”
Though the date was Rogers’ final Nashville appearance, the singer still has dates on the calendar for his The Gambler’s Last Deal tour through December. Rogers says that saying goodbye has brought out the emotions. “It’s sad on one hand, but on the other hand, you have to do it sooner or later. Either that, or die out there. That wasn’t my choice,” he said good-naturedly.
All In For The Gambler was produced by Blackbird Productions and was filmed and recorded for broadcast and distribution at a later date. Fans can visit www.KennyRogers.com for more information.