The day I met Kenny Rogers

On my first trip to Tamworth in 2011, Kenny had the final gig of the festival. His one and only show was at TRECC, the big concert venue out near the Golden Guitar. I sat towards the rear with a side angle to the stage.


He raced through his hits, medley style, pausing occasionally to chat with the audience. It was the exact same show – all the way down to the lighting and scenes from the Coward of the County projected onto the wall behind the band –  that I’d seen in the mid-90s in London when he toured with Tammy Wynette, Glen Campbell and Glen’s daughter Debbie. I still recall Kenny’s massive silhouette as he walked on stage and his hubcap-sized belt buckle straining to hold his stomach in.


At Tamworth, Kenny was much thinner and uncertain on his feet. He explained he’d recently had both hips replaced and walking off and on for the encore would be difficult, so, if we didn’t mind, he’d prefer to remain on stage. He’d had far too much work done on his face.


He talked about becoming a father again in old age and showed photos of the twins.


It wasn’t the best concert ever, by any stretch. It was no Springsteen. If you wanted to be cruel, you could say he dialed it in. But Kenny still had the voice. Breathy without being breathless. Easy. Unmistakable. Reassuring.


Show over, I jumped in a cab and raced to the airport for the last flight out for the day.


Departure was delayed a few minutes with passengers held in the terminal while a VIP was ushered quickly onto the tarmac and onto the plane. It was Kenny, wife and manager.


En route to Sydney, I watched through the seats as his head made involuntary shaking movements, perhaps symptomatic of a medical condition.


Upon landing, a few passengers grabbed him for a photo. Not one to approach people, I watched on with jealousy.


Kenny sat in the lounge for the connecting flight to Melbourne. I circled like a nervous teenager at the Warrnambool Youth Centre. I accidentally bumped into him in the toilet, thought about it, but thankfully reconsidered.


The Melbourne leg was torturous. I was running out of time and opportunities to meet Kenny.


Again, I stared at him through the seats. He drank diet coke as his young wife fussed over him.


At the carousel, my case came out first. Instead of leaving, I stood like a weirdo a few metres back from Kenny as he and entourage sat waiting for their luggage. My feet were glued to the floor, unable to move. I reminded myself I’d never get this chance again.


Suddenly, I was moving towards Kenny and standing over his left shoulder, apologising for interrupting, introducing myself and offering him my concert ticket and pen for his autograph.


‘’I’ve been feeling you since Tamworth’, he said with an exaggerated shiver.


He held the ticket as tightly as he could to stop his hands from shaking and scribbled his name. Mrs Rogers glared at me.


I thanked him, walked backwards still apologising for my impertinence and floated to the taxi queue.


Last Saturday night news came through of Kenny’s death. Eloise and I ate pizza and danced in the lounge room in tribute. She allowed me to suspend my Lenten promise to not sing in her presence.


Country music is story-telling and even though he was more Days of our Lives sometimes, Kenny was one of the best. As Dolly always said, he had an ear for a hit song.


Kenny was The Gambler who saw life as a series of decisions, knowing when to play safe and when to take risks; the Coward, on a never ending search for manhood; the Dreamer, who warned women not to fall in love with him, while offering plenty of come-hither late night dedications if they were inclined.


Kenny, thanks for letting me say hello. I hope you got to die in your sleep.





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  2. Andrew Starkie says

    Will keep an eye out for her, Andrew

  3. John Butler says

    Starkers, always a tortured question, to meet or not to meet someone you admire?

    The one time I did it didn’t go well. (apologies, Richard Thompson).

  4. Andrew Starkie says

    JB, how are ya? Great read. Reckon he still remembers you?
    Roos robbed in AFLW. Would’ve won the flag.

  5. Nice yarn, Starkers.

    I cannot say that I was a fan of Kenny, more an admirer of his longevity.
    I am not a huge fan of country music, but have been really enjoying the Ken Burns doco series on SBS.

  6. John Butler says

    Starkers, I doubt RT remembered me 30 seconds after we spoke. I gave him little reason to.

    Dunno about the Roos. You had to get past the Blues first. It would have been a fascinating contest. I’m impressed with what D Harford has done since taking over.

    Stay well.

  7. Andrew Starkie says

    All part of the conspiracy, JB.

    Smoke, life is Country. Haven’t you worked that out yet?

    as i said to JB, I love Ken Burns’ work.

  8. Luke Reynolds says

    The angst of meeting your heroes! Great piece Andrew.

  9. Rick Kane says

    Great piece Andrew, especially the stalking him on the plane! I’m a sucker for saying hello and giving a thumbs up to artists I admire. It’s the human touch.

    Back in the 80s a friend and I went to the Randy Travis’ concert at the Perth Concert Hall. Another friend was running the place at the time. She got us backstage to meet Randy. The only other people there were music journos and media types. Randy was introduced to each person and they all had that impressive, “hi, I’m from Ch 7″ attachment to their introduction. When Randy came to us, his PR person stopped as she had no idea who we were. My friend Polly stepped forward and said, Hi Randy, lovely to meet you, I’m Polly and I’m just a fan”. Randy loved it!


  10. Andrew- I identify with your hesitancy when it comes to meeting celebrities/ heroes in that I don’t think I have a right to impose. But then again, I’ve not had too many opportunities. A couple ex-Crows lived on my street and I was content to just nod hello if they were in the garden.

    I was moved by your inclusion of detail regarding Kenny’s increasing physical fragility. A timely reminder.

    Thanks for sharing.

  11. Pamela Sherpa says

    Never let a chance go by Andrew. Glad you met Kenny. I adored his music . Thankfully we’ll always be able to listen to it.

  12. Paul Spinks says

    Great story, Andrew.

    Fully understand your reticence – don’t want to impose or, and sometimes, treat them any differently.

    Gotta know when to hold ’em, fold ’em, walk away etc. That theory also applies to footy!

  13. Andrew Starkie says

    The music lives on forever, Pamela.

    Paul, it’s a metaphor for life.

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