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Mississippi State University's Riley Center will host country cult favorite Robert Earl Keen Friday at 7:30 p.m.
In his 30 years as a singer and songwriter, Keen has never broken into the mainstream airwaves, but fans across the country know his name and his songs, such as "The Road Goes on Forever and Merry Christmas from the Family." Dennis Sankovich, director of the Riley Center, said even MSU President Mark Keenum and his wife, Rhonda Keenum, have requested Keen.
"They said they thought this would be great for the Riley Center," Sankovich said. "He was suggested by many of our audience members. We presented him about five years ago, one of our first seasons. People loved his show, it sold extremely well, and we were getting a lot of requests from people to bring it back."
As a Texas native, Keen writes from a very Southern perspective, providing a common man's perspective on life, Sankovich said. One of the biggest reasons Keen has a large cult following, Sankovich said, is that Keen writes the music he wants to write without regard for commercial success.
"Sometimes that's not going to get you into the top 40 hits, but it does give you longevity and an opportunity to develop a wide audience on your own," Sankovich said. "He also has a reputation for playing all different types of dates. Every once in a while, you'll see him at State Theatre or on The Grove in Oxford. He plays a lot of different university towns, and he has a wide range of songs, but not exactly mainstream notoriety."
Even people who aren't familiar with Keen will be entertained, Sankovich said.
"He has a very humorous personality," Sankovich said. "He ties together stories between the songs, which is interesting because he wrote most of them."
But not all of them, Sankovich said, because he is hoping Keen will perform some Jimmie Rodgers covers. Keen's appearance at the Riley Center is part of the Jimmie Rodgers Festival, which will also include two events at Meridian's Singing Brakeman Park. "Jimmie's Jam" is set there for Saturday at 5 p.m., featuring such regional bands as Big Swig, Bo and the Show, Southern Drive and No Requests. The park and festival will also host a gospel concert by Shane and Shane May 25 at 6:30 p.m.
Sankovich said this was the Riley Center's first year partnering with The Jimmie Rodgers Foundation for the festival, and so far, it has worked out well. He said George Jones was proud to help Meridian celebrate Rodgers on May 12.
"When I talked to George Jones, he said, 'I've got all of Jimmie Rodgers' albums,'" Sankovich said. "The last time he was in Meridian, he performed many years ago for the Jimmie Rodgers Festival."
For those in Starkville interested in attending but concerned about a long nighttime drive back home, MSU is providing a shuttle service for up to 60 people, and will continue to do so for Riley Center performances throughout the summer. Sankovich said he hoped more people would take advantage of this service.
"I hope we can get more people to come down for the show, take the shuttle bus and purchase tickets," Sankovich said. "Tickets are still available, and I hope they'll contact us."
Shuttles will leave at 4:30 p.m. from the north end of the Zacharias Village lot across from Griffis Hall on campus. Shuttle tickets cost $10 and can be requested by calling the Riley Center box office at 601-696-2200 before ordering concert tickets.