The term “living legend” is used quite generously. That said, the UB Center for the Arts hosted an undisputed living legend Saturday night, when three-time Grammy Award winner Kenny Rogers took to the mainstage for one of the final stops on his “The Gambler’s Last Deal” world tour.
For Rogers’ longtime fans, it was the last chance to relive a lifetime of iconic music before their hero rides into the sunset.
Rogers presented his Christmas show, a tradition he began more than 35 years ago, mixing his favorite holiday songs with his greatest hits. For a man who has sold more than 120 million albums and charted 24 No. 1 songs, it was, by necessity, a limited sampling.
Rogers, who took the stage dressed in black pants and an oxford shirt, joked and told stories throughout the 100-minute set, as screens behind him showed scenes from his career in music and film over the last 60 years.
Rogers is known for performing duets with talented women, including Dolly Parton, Sheena Easton and Kim Carnes. On this night, those shoes were filled by Linda Davis, a Grammy-winning singer who has performed with Rogers for more than two decades.
At 79 years old, with six decades of touring mileage on him, Rogers is by no means the singer or stage performer he used to be. That once unmistakable rich, smoky voice struggled at times to hit the mark, and, hobbled by multiple knee surgeries, he performed much of the show from the comfort of an easy chair.
But, for his diehard fans, none of that mattered. The night was as much about paying tribute and saying farewell as it was about the music. At no time was that more evident that during the hits “Coward of the County” and “Lucille,” when the crowd joined in on the choruses, many standing in tribute.
And, though he may be far-removed from his vocal strength of even a decade ago, there is still something goosebump-inducing about hearing those first few chords of “The Gambler” that can’t be duplicated. At the conclusion of Rogers’ best-known song, 1,700 strong inside the Center for the Arts rose in unison and offered a thunderous ovation that appeared to leave Rogers choked up.
Though it’s his chart-toppers that fill the seats, Rogers wasn’t leaving anything out of his farewell tour. His 28-song set included “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home,” a big-band-era song Rogers traced back to his inspiration to get into music. Likewise he revisited his time with the First Edition, offering up a rousing rendition of “Something’s Burnin’.”
With a choir composed of University at Buffalo students joining him onstage for “We Are the World,” among other songs, and a mix of holiday numbers that included, “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” it truly was an eclectic night of music. And, it was music for a cause. The concert was the annual fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House of Buffalo, raising $65,000.
Rogers passed on the traditional encore, saying, “If I walk off this stage, I have a feeling I wouldn’t make it back.” Instead he stayed on stage and, befitting the showman he is, ended his farewell show with “Blaze of Glory.”
After knowing when to hold ‘em for 60 years, The Gambler knew when to fold ‘em, and fortunately, he chose Buffalo for one of his final stops.