Boxoffice Insider: Robert Earl Keen A Steady Draw, Year After Year

Robert Earl Keen performs at Aladdin Theater in Portland, Ore., on Oct. 6, 2011.
Photo by Anthony Pidgeon / Redferns

Robert Earl Keen is one of the concert touring artists with a performance career spanning all four decades of The Pollstar Era that stretches back to the early 1980s. That was not long after he first arrived in Austin, Texas, and began his live career playing clubs and performance halls in that city and other regional Texas markets – and ultimately the rest of the country and beyond.

Like most artists who have been on the road for as many years, his box-office history is brimming with scores of venues that have booked him multiple times year after year. Some of them have been around for just as many years or longer, some closed decades ago and some have opened for business this century – or this year.

According to the box office archives, of the 13 venues in Austin that have hosted Keen for at least one concert – including Zilker Park where he has performed as part of the Austin City Limits Music Festival, eight of them have brought him back for repeat performances in subsequent years.

Among the Austin venues, Austin City Limits Live at Moody Theater has the most concerts on record with 10 headlined by the Houston native. In 2011, he played a single concert in December at the venue with a crowd of 2,155 and returned annually with a performance every holiday season through 2018. Then, the next year, he performed on Dec. 20 but added a second night with a total of 5,049 tickets sold. Of his single shows there, the best headcount was in 2016, again on Dec. 20, with 2,558 fans present.

Also in the Texas capital city, he played five shows at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q from 2000 through 2011 and seven at The Backyard outdoor venue between 1995 and 2000 including shows in both April and September in ’99. Then, a decade before that, he played four two-show engagements at the Cactus Cafe during a three-year span beginning in 1989. His most recent shows reported in the Austin area are two August 2020 shows and one in July 2021 at the now-defunct Nutty Brown Amphitheatre that closed late last year to make way for the new Round Rock Amp that opened this past April. And Keen also played there for 1,941 fans the following month.

A glance at the archives shows more than two dozen American venues, 14 of them with ticket sales data reported from 10 concerts or more. The venue with the most on record is The Birchmere in Alexandria, Va., with 27 shows from November 1997 through March 2019. Two of the years (2016 and 2018) featured two-show engagements with Lyle Lovett co-headlining.

Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse has 20 shows reported for Keen through the years from May 1997 until December 2017, followed closely by the Neighborhood Theatre in Charlotte with 19 beginning in March 1999 through a sold-out concert on June 7 of this year with 925 fans. The 53-year-old Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, N.C., has 15 shows in the archives, all from the 1990s through 2006, while Ram’s Head On Stage in Annapolis, Md., has 13 and Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas, has 12.

Other venues with 10 or more shows include The Orange Peel (Asheville, N.C.) and The Handlebar (Greenville, S.C.); Rockefeller’s (Houston) and Floore’s Country Store (Helotes, Texas); Cain’s Ballroom (Tulsa, Okla.) and Kuumbwa Jazz Center (Santa Cruz, Calif.); and Irving Plaza in New York City where Keen performed 11 times from November 1999 through November 2007, moving almost 10,000 tickets.