Wednesday night in Nashville, the Gambler played his final hand, in a concert celebrating his 60-year-career and marking his retirement from touring.
For most of the evening, Kenny Rogers sat at the corner of the stage with his wife Wanda, watching as the hottest stars in country music and legends from the worlds of rock, R&B and Broadway interpreted his songs. The night didn’t reach its peak however, until Kenny closed the show by doing one last set with his longtime friend and duet partner, Dolly Parton.
Then, the music video for Kenny and Dolly’s duet “Real Love” played in its entirety, as the arena went dark and the stage was set for the moment the crowd had been waiting for.
“Kenny, of course, says he’s retiring,” Dolly started, after the two walked on. “I want to see what condition your condition’s really in,” she said, referencing his early hit while she felt his shoulders. “Looks good to me! Don’t he to you?”
The irrepressible Parton couldn’t resist trying to embarrass her most famous duet partner one last time.
“I just hope that many, many years from now when I’m older,” she added, “that I’ll know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.”
“Anyway, we’ve been accused of it all through the years,” Dolly said as she turned her most famous assets toward Kenny. “You are retiring. You want to hold ‘em now?” The crowd roared with laughter.
From there, Rogers’ and Parton’s obvious affection for each other was on full display. Their new classic “You Can’t Make Old Friends” both celebrated their bond and served as a fitting epitaph for their years together.
Kenny sat on a stool, while a standing Dolly leaned against him, offering her most famous composition, “I’ll Always Love You.”
And just as one of the most famous and successful pairings in show business history began — with the impromptu recording of “Islands in the Stream” — it ended with an upbeat version of the same song.
“Kenny, how about we go out like rock stars?” Dolly asked, before both dropped their mics and walked off stage.
Earlier in the evening Kenny was serenaded not only be many contemporary country stars, but also peers like Lionel Richie, who sang “Lady” at Kenny’s request, Don Henley did the Eagles’ classic “Desperado” in Kenny’s honor and Kris Kristofferson who reminded the crowd that Kenny and the First Edition had cut “Me and Bobby McGee” in 1969 the same year Janis Joplin did.
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