Arts & Entertainment

Kenny Rogers still wins new fans
"The Gambler" delights New Hampshire audience

Text and photo copyright © 2006 by Mike Colclough and The George Foster Co. (Laconia Citizen), all rights reserved. Published August 14, 2006.

GILFORD - By the end of tonight, we're going to make you a number one fan. Country music legend Kenny Rogers made such a promise to a man named Larry in the front row of his concert at Meadowbrook Musical Arts Center Saturday night.

After two songs, Rogers asked the men in the audience to confess if they were present as true fans or merely as good husbands. Larry, whom Rogers singled out, was in the latter category.

"I'll make you a deal then," Rogers told Larry. "I'll give you ten dollars for every one of my songs you can name." Rogers pulled out a wad of cash. The crowd cheered, and began shouting at Larry the names of Rogers' hits from several decades. Larry named a few-The Gambler, for starters.

Rogers dropped a ten-spot for each one.

Then, on with the concert. Rogers promised a few new songs with the old. As the music kicked in, he told Larry: "If I start a song that you know, put your hand up and I'll drop another ten."

More cheers from the crowd.

Rogers debuted a new song, "In the Last Ten Years," a musical memorial to the nation's stars, such as Johnny Cash and President Ronald Reagan. The refrain repeated, "…and we lost Superman."

"We're gonna miss ya, Chris," said Rogers at the song's end. Standing ovation.

Rogers moved into his older stuff. True to his word, he kept the ten-dollar bills flying at Larry. The crowd cheered each time.

Rogers had already paid up for The Gambler. As he played it for the Meadowbrook crowd, he blacked out the stage and used his oversized video screens to show fight scenes from The Gambler 1-5. At the conclusion, he announced The Gambler 6.

A classic Western opened- but then the beat changed. Seated with the good ol' boys on the steam train was rapper Coolio.
More laughter. But Coolio wasn't the only non-present guest.

"I sang a duet with one of the upcoming young studs of country music," Rogers announced. When his cohort's pre-recorded vocal came, he put his arm around a cardboard cutout of Tim McGraw. A stagehand danced the cutout across the stage, with Broadway kicks. At song's end, Rogers looked dumbfounded.

"There aren't a lot of things I'm sure of in life," said Rogers. "But I am certain that Tim McGraw has never danced like that!" The comment drew uproarious laughter. On that, and several other occasions, Rogers proved he could've just as easily done an all-comedy act.

He introduced his baseball-inspired song The Greatest-"A piece of Americana," as he called it-with a joke about two elderly baseball players wondering if there was baseball in heaven. When one died, he came back to tell the other: "The good news is there is baseball in heaven. The bad news is, you're pitching on Tuesday."

A few minutes later he sang Lady. Ten more for Larry.

Then he began the music for Lucille. "I'll give you twenty dollars if you know this one," he offered Larry. The man didn't. Rogers gave him a concert T-shirt. Turning to the crowd, the singer said, "Make sure he keeps his end of the bargain by wearing that all the way back to the car. If he doesn't, beat the hell out of him." More laughter.

Rather than "hide behind the curtain for a couple minutes and pretend like I'm not coming back out," Rogers told the crowd he was too old for that routine and simply announced the beginning of his encore.

In the end, Larry had counted less than Rogers thought he'd shelled out. Rogers pointed to his wife. "Are you sure she's not taking taxes out for you?" he asked. More cheers. More laughter.

Following Islands In the Stream, Rogers' last act was bending over the edge of the stage and shaking Larry's hand.

A number one Kenny Rogers fan is born.