The biggest names across all genres of music took the stage Wednesday night (Oct. 25) at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena to celebrate Kenny Rogers at All in for the Gambler: Kenny Rogers Farewell Concert Celebration. The Oak Ridge Boys, Don Henley, Idina Menzel, Lionel Richie, Billy Currington, Elle King, Little Big Town, Justin Moore, The Flaming Lips, Alison Krauss, Chris Stapleton and Dolly Parton were among those on hand to honor Rogers. Before Rogers and Parton ended the evening with a mic drop, a steady stream of artists hit the stage to share memories and songs from the iconic artist’s six decades long career.
“We’re here for Kenny, and so are you,” Joe Bonsall of The Oak Ridge Boys said to the sold out crowd as the band took the stage to deliver a spirited rendition of Roger’s “Love or Something Like It,” a chart-topping 1978 hit that was the title track of Rogers’ fourth No. 1 album.
Rogers and his wife, Wanda, sat on the left side of the stage throughout the evening, soaking in every stellar performance. As the Oaks exited the stage, they stopped to embrace Rogers and share a few words.
Charles Esten, who stars as Deacon Claybourne on CMT’s Nashville, served as emcee for the evening. He introduced pop songstress Elle King, looking sassy in a short red and black outfit. She delivered a personality-packed cover of “Tulsa Turnaround,” a song Rogers had first recorded early in his career as a member of the First Edition.
Next on the stage, an all-star ensemble of Rogers’ former opening acts performed Rogers’ 1982 hit “Blaze of Glory.” Travis Tritt, T. Graham Brown, Lee Greenwood, Billy Dean, Crystal Gayle, Steve and Rudy Gatlin, T.G. Sheppard and Kim Forester of the Forester Sisters traded lines while Rogers smiled from the side of the stage.
Justin Moore performed an excellent rendition of “Lucille,” the 1977 blockbuster hit that paved the way for Rogers’ successful solo career in country music after he exited the First Edition. Moore was followed by Linda Davis and her daughter, Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott. The mother daughter duo shared memories of their longtime friendship with Rogers and sang a beautiful cover of his nostalgic hit “Twenty Years Ago.”
The great performances continued with Billy Currington delivering a sultry take on “Morning Desire,” followed by Aaron Lewis showing his traditional country chops with a solid rendition of Rogers’ chart-topping 1979 hit “Coward of the County.”
Wynonna took the stage next and got a rousing standing ovation before she even sang. “You may be seated,” she said smiling appreciatively at the crowd before launching into “You Turn the Light On.”
“When I was 20-years-old, I went and saw this man in concert, back when country music was more country. And it was sweet and simple like me,” Wynonna said with a mischievous grin. She was joined on stage by her mother Naomi for a Judds reunion as they sang “Back to the Well.”
Next up, the Flaming Lips delivered a cool version of the classic hit “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” which was written by country legend Mel Tillis.
“Are y’all having fun yet?” Reba asked the crowd as she took the stage to sing the hit “Reuben James.” “We’ve had the best time backstage. It’s like a family reunion. Everybody’s hugging everybody and talking.”
After her performance, Rogers’ bandmates from the First Edition took to the stage for a photo op with the sold out crowd cheering enthusiastically behind them. Jamey Johnson got the music flowing again with “Sweet Music Man,” a hit ballad that Rogers wrote by himself that became a top ten hit in 1977. “You already signed my guitar or I’d be over there with a Sharpie,” Johnson said to Rogers. He got a standing ovation for “Sweet Music Man” and then launched into the First Edition’s hit “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).”
Alison Krauss put her haunting soprano to excellent use on “Love the World Away” and received a standing ovation. Kris Kristofferson received a standing ovation the minute he stepped into the spotlight and another after he wowed the crowd with “Me and Bobby McGee.” Lady Antebellum followed with Rogers’ huge crossover hit “She Believes in Me,” with Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley trading vocals on the verses and Dave Haywood adding to the beautiful harmonies. They received a standing ovation as did Little Big Town who hit the stage next to perform “Through the Years.”
The crowd took to their feet in thunderous applause as Don Henley stepped into the spotlight to honor his longtime friend and fellow Texan. Henley performed a compelling rendition of “Desperado,” the Eagles classic that has been cut by numerous artists over the years, including Rogers.
Looking stunning in a blue floor-length gown, Idina Menzel hit the stage next to sing “You Decorated My Life,” before Lady A’s Kelley returned to duet with her on “We’ve Got Tonight,” the Bob Seger classic that Rogers turned into a country hit as a duet with Sheena Easton in 1983. Menzel and Kelley’s duet earned an enthusiastic standing ovation from the crowd.
Esten returned to the stage to share that Rogers had become friends with the next artist when he asked him to write a song for him. That song was “Lady,” penned by Lionel Richie, who moved center stage to unleash one of the most potent performances of the night. He was followed by Chris Stapleton singing “The Gambler,” while Rogers smiled from the sidelines.
During the evening, the crowd had been anticipating Roger’s performance with Parton and they weren’t disappointed. Throughout the night, the video screens had been displaying vintage photos of Rogers’ career over the years. Before Parton took the stage, the crowd was treated to a video of “Real Love” with classic clips of Kenny & Dolly over the years. When the two walked out to center stage, the crowd roared. And, as always, Parton gave the crowd their money’s worth, asking Rogers about his life and career as well as teasing him about their plastic surgeries, noting they both used to be bigger before they found “jiffy suck” (better known as liposuction). They delivered a touching version of “You Can’t Make Old Friends” and Rogers, who has trouble standing for extended periods of time, sat on a stool while Dolly sang “I Will Always Love You.” “I know I’m artificial, but I like to think my heart is real,” Parton said. “I have a spot for you that’s never ever going to be touched by anybody else.”
Before they launched into the closing number, “Islands in the Stream,” Rogers addressed the crowd, “I want to thank you so much for coming here tonight to help me say goodbye,” said the 79-year-old icon, who had previously announced he was retiring from the road after The Gambler’s Last Deal Tour. “It’s really been fun for me, and tonight has been as much about me saying thank you as saying goodbye.”
“I can’t think of anybody else I’d rather sail away with,” Parton said as the duo launched into “Island in the Stream.” They concluded the performance with a mic drop that put an exclamation point on a night of great music those in attendance will never forget.