Robert Earl Keen says that after September 2022 he’ll no longer tour or give public performances. The beloved Texas singer-songwriter announced his retirement on Friday with a heartfelt if surprising note on his website.
“I [have] been blessed with a lifetime of brilliant, talented, colorful, electric and magical folks throughout my life,” Keen wrote. “This chorus of joy, this parade of passion, this bullrush of creativity, this colony of kindness and generosity are foremost in my thoughts TODAY.”
Keen, 66, plans to continue playing numerous shows up through Sept. 4, when he will wrap things up with multiple performances at Floore’s Country Store in Helotes, Texas. After that, he notes, he plans to continue writing songs and interviewing guests for his Americana podcast. Additionally, Keen will host a fan-appreciation party on Sept. 5, the details for which have yet to be announced.
In his letter, Keen pointed out that his decision to retire had nothing to do with health issues: “I’m a strong believer in clarity and truth. As much as I love what I do, it’s more important that I do it well or not at all. I’m not sick or experiencing any existential crisis. I feel that making a decision and quitting the road while I still love it, is the way I want to leave it. I’ve witnessed first hand the alternative and promised myself I would go out feeling all the love for music and performing the same way I entered — with passion and enthusiasm.”
A native of Houston, Keen became one of the leading lights of Austin’s singer-songwriter scene in the late Seventies and Eighties, building a loyal following on the strength of his songwriting and live performances. Among those compositions are gems like “The Front Porch Song,” which he wrote with his onetime roommate Lyle Lovett, and his signature number “The Road Goes on Forever,” recorded for 1989’s West Textures on Sugar Hill Records.
Keen has regularly released new recordings, with 12 studio albums and seven live albums to his credit. His most recent studio project under his own name, 2015’s Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions, featured him tackling standards like “Long Black Veil” and even covering Richard Thompson’s “52 Vincent Black Lightning.” In 2019, he teamed up with Randy Rogers to release an album as the Stryker Brothers.
Though never exactly a mainstream country star, Keen seemed content with the amount of fame he had attained over the years.
“I’m at the best level of celebrity in the world. I can go anywhere I want to and nobody ever really recognizes me unless I talk,” he told Rolling Stone. “It’s what my wife calls ‘playing the Earl card.’ I go, ‘Hi, I’m Robert Keen,’ and [people] go, ‘Oh, OK, nice to see you.’ Then I say, ‘Robert Earl Keen,’ and they go, ‘Oh!’”
Earl concluded his letter with a nod to his most well-known song. “Although it might not be apparent here,” he wrote, “I promise, The Road Goes on Forever and the Party Never Ends.”