Meeting Kenny Rogers: the VIP Concert Experience

For the last 30 years, Kenny has been performing Holiday concerts. The shows have been a nice mix of classic hits, peppered with holiday performances to be enjoyed by all the generations. He often invites local children and high school choirs from each city to participate in the show, creating a very authentic holiday event.

This year, Kenny and his management have invited fans to be VIPs at select venues, so my wife and I signed up and happily paid the inflated ticket price offered through his website. This event became my 11th Kenny Rogers concert over 32 years.

The days leading up to the event I had received emails with the logistical details of the VIP event. I also received courtesy calls not only from the venue the day of the show, but from Jason Henke from Kenny’s management company as well. The calls were just to assure me of the arrival time and smaller details, or if I had questions, etc. I thought their personal touches were nice, and was appreciative for their concern.

At the Genesee Theater in Waukegan, IL event on December 13, 2011, we were greeted at 6 PM by Kenny’s tour manager, Gene Roy. Gene welcomed us and spoke a little bit about what we would be experiencing that evening, and telling us how he has been working as Kenny’s tour manager for 30 years. A real seasoned pro! Gene gave an abbreviated tour of the backstage areas, and we sat through 5-10 minutes of the rehearsal with the local children. You could tell the kids were excited to be there! We were then invited to join Kenny in his dressing room for a 15-20 minute conversation. Kenny was very friendly and I think genuinely grateful to spend a few minutes of his day with us. We asked all sorts of questions about his family, career and life, which he graciously answered. The visit was very relaxed; Kenny in his track pants and t shirt sat comfortably and engaged each one of us as if we were all old friends. Some of the VIPS had things for him to sign, and we were all given a print of one of his many beautiful landscape photographs, hand signed and dated. We also each received a Christmas ornament, CD of Christmas Live and a t-shirt.

Following the visit we were escorted to an area set aside for photo opportunities. Each VIP couple or individual had their pictures taken with Kenny by his guitar player, Randy Dorman. (The pictures were promptly uploaded to his website by the next morning for print orders or download, each framed with the date and venue.)

For me, having the opportunity to shake hands and converse with my favorite musical legend was a priceless event. Kenny was gracious, considerate and humble. I was a bit nervous with anticipation prior to the event, but once there I was made to feel welcome and at ease. Everything I had heard and read about Kenny being personable was indeed the truth. For a celebrity of his stature and iconic status, he was charming, humorous and genuine. The visit was like spending a few minutes with an old friend or distant relative.

After the visit and photo op, we relaxed a bit, getting a bottle of water at the concession stand and visiting with another VIP couple before finding our seats. We had been promised something within the first five rows, and to my pleasant surprise my wife and I were assigned in the front row, right on the center aisle! Awesome!

The show began at 7:30. Throughout the show Kenny would look right at us, making eye contact, sharing smiles and nods. With no one in front of me I felt as if those in the front row were the only patrons in the theater. It was a wonderful concert; Kenny did a 45 minute set of all his huge hits. He stumbled on a word or two, missed a note here and there, but soldiered through the show without concern or exertion. He did sing “Lady” at the request of another VIP couple, and made a gesture toward them as the song began. I think people come to see him as a personality more than to hear flawless vocal execution; and that has been his style of singing for decades.

Kenny’s band is comprised of some of the best musicians on tour today, having been together for 10 or so years, if not 30. Some of those guys were with Kenny in the 70’s: Randy Dorman (guitar), Steve Glassmeyer (keyboards, guitar, mandolin, saxophone, flute), and Chuck Jacobs (bass) for sure. Lynn Hammond (drummer), keyboardist gene Sisk and keyboardist / band leader Warren Hartmann since the 90’s I believe. Brian Mitchell (guitar) and Amber Randall (fiddle) since the mid-2000s. They displayed camaraderie and kinship that only a seasoned band can muster, and they all looked as if they have the greatest job in the world. Their musical chops were displayed more during the 2nd holiday set with a few instrumental pieces and singer Billy Dean and the local children singing a few numbers before Kenny returned to the stage. I think the band members were amused at the cutesy performances and mannerisms of the children.

After a brief intermission, the holiday set included both secular and spiritual numbers, with heavy focus on the true meaning of Christmas and importance of family. It is so refreshing to witness those themes in a public forum such as this concert was, with all the political correctness and downplay of the origins of Christmas in our media and public life today.

A wonderful review of the show found its way into cyberspace the following day, and Kenny’s website offered a free download of “Silent Night” starting this week also. I too have been reeling in the excitement of meeting a personal hero. I promptly downloaded the photo with Kenny to my phone, my Facebook page and have been telling everyone I know how great the experience was. This writing was completed within one week past the event.

It is not an everyday occurrence for me to meet someone like Kenny Rogers. I had met some other celebrities over the years, but no one of his relevance in my own life. Kenny was a role model for me. His music made me want to learn how to play guitar and sing. If I had a “bucket list,” meeting Kenny Rogers would definitely be on it. I can cross it off now as life experience, and a great one at that. Maybe someday our paths will cross again.

Kenny, it was a real joy meeting you!

And to all who find this essay, I wish a Merry Christmas. May all of your dreams come true. If one of those dreams is to meet your personal hero, I know it will be a rewarding venture!

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