Kenny Rogers' Passion for Music Leads to a 'Gamble' with Young Bonnaroo Crowd

on June 05 2012 2:43 PM
Kenny Rogers
Kenny Rogers had a captive audience listening to his biggest hits. Jay Fletcher

Although Kenny Rogers has toured the world and performed at some of the world's biggest musical events, the three-time Grammy Award winner never expected he'd be performing at the 2012 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.

The legendary country singer, known for hits like Lady and The Gambler, initially thought he might not be a great fit for Bonnaroo, which is known for a mostly young, enthusiastic crowd, but he said everything changed recently.

Normally, I wouldn't feel I was appropriate for [Bonnaroo], but it was the same kind of thing with the Stagecoach Festival. It was a big, big thing -- 100,000 people -- and I really enjoyed it and got a great response.

Any time you can introduce yourself to another generation of people, it is great business, plus the crowds were so much more enthusiastic than the crowds I normally play for.

One review of Rogers' performance at the Stagecoach Festival in late April noted a packed crowd that was sitting on each other's shoulders, attempting to hold their cameras above people's heads in hopes to at least RECORD a glimpse of him.

Rogers said that the Stagecoach performance, where many fans sang every word of The Gambler, convinced him that young fans are familiar with his work and that he still knows how to connect with an audience.

I think the good thing is a lot of parents played my music for their children when they were young, Rogers said.

And if they didn't, you adjust. When I get over to Bonnaroo, the trick is to do some things that the kids will know -- some of my hits -- and then do some other songs that they'd like.

Rogers concedes that some bands at Bonnaroo will do better than he, but he's at ease. He's confident that he'll go over well at a festival that is known more for jam bands than country singing legends and he exudes an air of genuine contentment with his station in life.

He has two 7-year-old boys that keep him busy, but he says that if he weren't recording music and still performing, he'd get bored just sitting at home all day. He has a new album coming out later this year, and an autobiography due out in October that details a career of more than 50 years that most musicians would kill for.

Everyone in their life, regardless of their age, needs a purpose. As you get older, you ask yourself-- what is my purpose? Rogers said. For me, music is what I am. So when I get a chance to perform, I perform as much or as little as I want to, it's a great thrill. It's a chance to appreciate the audience's acceptance when I go out. I think that I need that. I don't like just sitting at home. I get really bored.

It's that passion for performing that Rogers, who is 73, hopes will drive him for another 15 years or so if my health holds up. He might not play the packed, sold-out, 30,000-capacity arenas he did during his heyday, but he insists that he does plenty fine, and that he's happy to keep working on his craft.

One of the best pieces of advice my mom ever gave me was to be happy where you are, otherwise you won't be happy, he said. But I strive to get better, I strive to improve. I strive to morph into something different.

I'm thrilled with where I am in my life.

Rogers will perform at The Other Tent at the Bonnaroo festival on Sunday, June 10, at 4:30 p.m.

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