Talking to Kenny Rogers about quitting and about Glastonbury
Veteran singer Kenny Rogers tells me it may be time to call it quits on overseas tours – but not before a stint at Britain’s famed Glastonbury festival and a world music gig alongside Berber musicians in Morocco.
Rogers, 74, reckons the time he spends overseas may be too much for his family.
“I have identical twin boys that are nine years old (and) I don’t like being that far away from them,” five-time married Rogers said in a telephone interview. “There is a fine line between being driven and being selfish – I have crossed that line a few times – and I don’t want to do that to my boys.”
But the music goes on for now, and he talks amiably about where he is now and what he is about to do. Rogers jokes that after hitting the charts in seven consecutive decades there are now two kinds of people who listen to him – those born since 1980 and those born before 1960 who can no longer remember 1960.
All of which should make the appearance to woo festivalgoers at the central Pyramid stage at Glastonbury something of a doddle. Research shows the three-day event on farmland in southwest England – nearly always presented as a sea of mud populated by youngsters in rubber boots known as wellies – actually attracts 175,000 festivalgoers a day with an average age of 36.
“Those are my people,” Rogers said animatedly when I told him about the age average age. “Their parents played my music as child abuse.”
He won’t be the only oldster there anyway. The Rolling Stones are playing – Charlie Watts is 72 – and 69-year old Bobby Womack.
Anyway, with 24 number one hits including “The Gambler”, “Lady”, “Lucille” and “Islands In The Stream” to his name, Rogers reckons he has a few tricks up his sleeve to win the crowd over at Glastonbury. He has learnt them over a career that began in high school in the 1950s, carried through into the group The First Edition in the 1960s, and then morphed into one of the biggest country pop acts of the 1970s and 1980s.
“In performing, you entertain the first 10 rows and you acknowledge the back 10,” he said. “If the front 10 are excited, the back 10 will get excited.”
The back 10 can be some way from the stage at Glastonbury, which has transformed into the world’s biggest open-air music festival from a humble gathering of 1,500 people in 1970, but Rogers seems relatively unfazed.
“I was the first one to do those big stadiums,” he said, whilst admitting that he does worry a bit about the age of the crowd and being slightly out of his comfort zone.
Roger’s Glastonbury appearance is part of a tour of Britain and Ireland that includes shows in Birmingham, Manchester, Dublin and Edinburgh, before a return to U.S. performances – and maybe never coming back again.
In the meantime, Rogers, who was named in April as one of this year’s inductees to the Country Music Hall of Fame, is working on a new album due out later this year that will be slightly different from his traditional fare.
“It’s my sound but it is the most diverse album,” he said , adding that some of it is a bit like a U2 song.
But first, on Wednesday, comes an unusual appearance in Agadir, Morocco. Rogers will sing at the Festival Timitar, a four-day world music event with the likes of French chanteuse Nolwenn Leroy and Moroccan Berber singer Raïssa Fatima Tabaamrant.
(This is an edited version of an article I wrote for my regular employer Reuters)