On a night that threatened heavy rains, the weather ultimately cooperated instead delivering a dreamy summer night for Kenny Rogers to the Ravinia Festival one last time as the seventy-seven-old legendary singer is calling it quits after a musical career that has lasted well over half a century. The pavilion was filled and picnickers were spread out all along the Ravinia grounds.
The tour, appropriately titled “The Gambler’s Last Deal”, is a timeline through Rogers celebrated run that starts off with his music from the 1960’s with The First Edition (later named Kenny Rogers and the First Edition as his popularity grew). Throughout the show Rogers takes on the role of a storyteller providing details about each decade’s musical transitions, adding little known tidbits of fun facts and plenty of humor. Throughout each story and song, jumbo screens project performance videos from each era (including an Ed Sullivan appearance) along with a slew of personal footage of his life.
Country star Linda Davis assists Rogers on this farewell tour, taking on a couple songs on her own and filling in on duet parts by such as Dottie West. Davis was able to add a bit of mobility to the show as Rogers was mostly confined to sitting on a stool due to recent knee surgery. “Sorry folks. I need to apologize. I just had a knee replacement and I think they replaced the wrong knee,” Rogers joked as he slowly walked onto the stage.
As for the hits, Rogers played most including “Something’s Burning”, “Love Lifted Me”, “Lady”, “Heroes” and the one that he explained really propelled his career, “Lucille”. Rogers even threw in a couple verses of “We Are the World” of which he participated in the 1980’s along with such stars as Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Rick Springfield and so many others.
A portion of the show went into Rogers’ days as an actor. Besides several television appearances as a guest host, including spots on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and The Muppets, Rogers starred in more than a handful of films, probably most notably The Gambler of which the title song was one of the show’s highlights.
“Not long ago a fan approached me after a show and said ‘I didn’t know you were an actor’. I told him, ‘I’ve got fourteen films that prove I wasn’t an actor’”, Rogers laughed.
“The Gamblers Last Deal” is a fantastic look into the history of Kenny Rogers music and leaves little doubt the effect he has had on the country music scene. Expectedly so, Rogers’ voice wasn’t as strong as it was in his earlier days, but his unique sound was. And for the Kenny Rogers fans in attendance, that was more than enough, several standing ovations throughout to prove it.
Kenny Rogers followed opening act The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, who also delivered an inspired set to the packed venue, providing the perfect musical complement to the famous singer. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band effectively set the mood for a night of fun music dishing out their own favorites, including “Mr. Bojangles” then Rogers put the exclamation point on the evening’s entertainment with an entertaining show of his own. After a well-rounded set of music and storytelling, Linda Davis and Kenny Rogers finally ended the show with an energy packed version of “Blaze of Glory”, leaving the legend’s followers with a night to remember.