NEW TOWN — Toby Keith said despite the recent trend to mix more hip-hop flavor into country music, he’s staying true to the roots that have earned him 20 No. 1 singles during a 25-year career.
One the most decorated country musicians this century said he’s concerned about the direction his genre is heading, especially when it comes to music that’s being played on the radio.
“I just don’t know if the radio stations will still play country music anymore,” he said. “Real country and real rock ‘n’ roll is kinda dead. Everything’s got a little more hip-hop feel to it, and very few records get made that don’t have a little hip-hop in them of any kind.”
The 55-year-old “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue” singer will feature his more traditional, unapologetic brand of country music at 8 p.m. Friday when he takes the stage to open the 4 Bears Casino & Lodge’s $47 million renovated concert venue near New Town.
The man behind hits like “Red Solo Cup,” “How Do You Like Me Now?” and “American Soldier” was brought back to 4 Bears because he was the first national act to perform at the venue when it originally opened in 2000, 4 Bears general manager Patrick Packineau said. After that appearance, Keith reeled off 10 straight No. 1 hit singles and three multiplatinum albums over the next four years.
“His career has definitely grown since then and we have also,” Packineau said. “It’s kinda unique that he was available and took a show on of this size, because he’s only doing the big arenas. But we had some history together.”
Packineau said the venue holds 3,500 people — maybe a few more for this concert — and that Keith is bringing the same show he performs in major arenas. He said Wednesday afternoon that a handful of general admission tickets remained.
“The people who are coming are in for a big treat,” Packineau said.
Concert-goers will be treated to Keith’s latest single, “A Few More Cowboys,” which is still trying to gain traction on country radio after it was released a month ago.
He said Wednesday in a phone interview that some stations are staying away from the song because its lyrics have been deemed “too political” by some in the music industry, even though Keith said it doesn’t take political sides and features lyrics he thinks appeal to everyone.
The song opens “If the White House was in Texas, man, we’d get a straighter answer / If they’d let us smoke what we want, we’d have a lot less cancer.” Later, he sings “If we did it with a handshake, we’d save a lot of paper / That’d save a lot of trees we’re shippin’ overseas to make her.”
In the chorus, he asserts there’d be less outlaws in the world if there were a few more cowboys. “This world would be a better place to live in, with a few more cowboys,” he sings.
“Which political side of the fence is that coming from?” Keith asked. “It’s a song about what would happen if there were a few more cowboys in the world. That’s all that song says. And everybody’s gotta take it out of context. They wanna hear what they wanna hear.”
He said people can make their own determinations of what the song is about, though he noted he was unimpressed with the public’s choices in this year’s presidential election.
“I’ve told everybody it’s a dumpster fire,” Keith said with a deep chuckle. “We’ve got 300 million people in the United States and these two candidates are what we’ve got left. It’s just crazy that we can’t do a better job of picking candidates. One of them’s got a history of corruptness. The other one might as well have wrestled in the WWE.”
Keith’s outspokenness has never turned off country music crowds though. In fact, he’s still packing them in.
Friday’s concert is part of his “Interstates and Tailgates Tour and he’s coming off selling out major venues in Pittsburgh and Chicago last week.
“We’ve been selling as big as ever,” he said. “It’s neat that I’ve created myself a party crowd that comes to my deal. I don’t have to have a latest, greatest flavor-of-the-month hit.”
Keith said while he used to do around 155 concerts a year, today 60 is a hefty number. He said he will tour through October this year and then take the winter off.
Still, Keith said proud that he’s still performing in front of big crowds at nearly ever stop.
“As long as we’ve got that, you look forward to going and doing it,” he said. “If I didn’t have that fan base, I could have retired a long time ago. It ain’t about the money no more.”