Bringing my grandparents along to the gig already marked it as different to my usual JD-soaked country music outings. My nan pulled a cake out of her bag in the middle of Lucille. So it was a strange enough night even before the star-struck women storming the stage, balcony brawls and police crowd control being called in. Oddly though, it’s not the rowdiness that will stand out the most about Kenny Rogers’ final night of his final world tour.

imageWhen people ask – usually baffled – how a black teenage girl from east London came to be so passionate about country music, my story starts with Kenny Rogers. In the glorious 90s – the days of questionable chart-toppers – the Sunday afternoon film The Coward of the County and Kenny’s title song awakened me to a genre of powerful storytelling ballads; one which wasn’t afraid to square up to uncomfortable subjects. Although for my formative years I’d thought Lucille had four hundred children and we were lions in the stream.

So, when Kenny shuffled onto stage for his eerily titled show “The Gambler’s Last Deal” and spoke of how this wasn’t just one of many “farewell tours” but really the end, I was of course choked.

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Linda Davis (Hillary Scott’s mum!) was Kenny’s partner in crime for the show

Kenny’s retrospective of his year career came with self-deprecating humour, mocking his age and troublesome knee. This delighted my nan, who – also 78 – had to contend with her own troublesome knee to get up to our circle seats. The show was poetically personal – he even brought his 12-year-old twin sons onto stage – and looking back over six decades it hit home just how iconic he’d been in both my world, the country music world and the world in general.

But then the embarrassment of much of this London Apollo audience. From the stage Kenny could not have seen the scuffles breaking out above, but could indeed hear the kerfuffle. Sixty-odd years of experience meant he could carry on despite the distractions. The brave audience members who hadn’t already fled the turbulent section to my left chanted “out, out, out” to those refusing to honour the staff’s eviction requests. Later they disrupted again, cheering the arrival of the police but in doing so causing more of a disturbance than the initial yobs.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Apart from the several raucous rows (another began later to my right), there were better things going on that Kenny also could not see from the stage. And these are the audience moments I will choose to remember because they are far more fitting of his status as my (and so many others’) country music hero.

  1. The two men sat behind me had travelled all the way from Newcastle to London to see him.
  2. These two men wore Kenny Rogers face masks throughout.
  3. My infamously cantankerous nan – who is also prone to nodding off at inappropriate times – was rapt. For the first time I saw her clapping and dancing along and it definitely wasn’t just down to the whiskey.
  4. My granddad bought me ice-cream between the sets and praised the ‘very good young warm up man’, Charlie Worsham.
  5. Judi and I, two girls who were not even born when the songs which made up the first half of his set were released, could sing along to every single word.

Being part of such a milestone event felt a real privilege. I’m sure that when the brawling buffoons sober up they’ll regret not making the most of it.

Were you there? What did you make of the eventful night?

CJ for @ukcountryblog

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