For Robert Earl Keen, the road goes on forever

Jake Flannick
Special to The Black Mountain News

He has spent much of his life making music about life in the Texas countryside, singing songs with grit and whimsy that convey an unpretentious philosophy.

So when the legendary singer and songwriter Robert Earl Keen takes the stage at the Pisgah Brewing Co., July 16, his rousing repertoire will, among other things, carry sincerity.

“He’s not just any musician,” said Dave Quinn, the founder of the brewery, just west of Black Mountain. “He’s a musician’s musician.”

Indeed, Keen has proved a prolific over the past three decades or so, releasing nearly 20 full-length albums whose compositions are as distinct as the characters they portray — small-town personalities, elusive lawbreakers and quirky family members.

But in addition to featuring some well-known songs like “The Road Goes on Forever,” his acoustic show at Pisgah will feature some new ones.

The show is part of a nationwide tour following the release of his latest album, “Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions.” Featuring 15 celebrated bluegrass songs he covered, the album pays tribute to a genre that helped shape him as a songwriter.

For the brewery, drawing large crowds to its expansive outdoor concert venue is routine. It has already sold out two shows this year, drawing some 2,300 people each time, Quinn said.

But hosting a show by a musician as eminent as Keen is remarkable.

Having played shows in the Southwest and around the country since the 1980s, Keen has established himself as an iconic figure in Americana music. And he is a musical virtuoso on stage, having played with the same five-member band over the past 20 years.

“I’ve played all over,” he said in a recent interview. He noted that he has visited Western North Carolina before, appearing at at least one music festival.

Keen got his start as a musician in his home state of Texas during college, going to “any place that would let me play music,” he said. Afterward, he found ways to make ends meet, holding a range jobs, from building houses to working at the Internal Revenue Service.

Even though he has gained eminence over the years, he has remained down to earth.

The lifestyle that results from a drive to create and to perform does not always lend itself to inspiration, he said. At times, he’s had to go looking for inspiration.

These days, his enthusiasm has evolved. What inspires him now is his desire to explore his musical creativity.

Asked whether he intends to keep making music, he noted that he has already written new songs since releasing his latest album earlier this year.

The road goes on ...

Who: Robert Earl Keen

When: 7:30 p.m . July 16

Where: Pisgah Brewing, Black Mountain

Cost: $20 advance, $25 show