Kenny Rogers, the platinum-plated force of nature, is hanging up his microphone.
For what looks like his last show in the area, Rogers returns to Valley Forge Casino Resorts. Nineteen years ago, Rogers performed the farewell concert for the original Valley Forge Music Fair.
"I remember the venue being a wonderful place, lots of sentiment attached to it," said Rogers when the subject of the Music Fair comes up. "I'm looking forward to coming back and helping to be part of the revival. We're going to make more memories together."
Rogers is touring in support of his new album, Once Again It's Christmas, his sixth seasonal LP. So how does he keep things fresh? "You don't, actually," said Rogers, who considers himself more spiritual than specifically religious. "The record company told me something I never realized: When someone buys a Christmas album, if they don't see songs they know and love, they won't buy it. I had a different record planned, but included some traditionals that I love," he said, including "Little Drummer Boy" and "Baby It's Cold Outside" with Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles, "to go with the original numbers."
Rogers' career has been characterized by its cross-pollination of genres. He has always been a country guy, but that doesn't mean he has to stay in his lane. His goal is to make the best music he can make. "I didn't want to do the same thing over and over and become stagnant," he said. "I was in a doo-wop group in the early days, played stand-up bass in a jazz trio. I was in a folk group for a bit."
Country music, though, was in his blood, straight-ahead and full-blooded, or laced with pop and rock sounds.
"My heart has always been in country. It's what my mom listened to and my dad played as a kid. I think I am a country singer with a lot of other musical influences. Country is where the pain is and where the story-songs are. The music is relatable. If a song touches me, I feel like I can make others feel something when they hear it," Rogers said. "I hope I was able to bring some people to country music who otherwise might not have listened, because of the crossover success I enjoyed on the charts and the arena tours."
When it comes to closing his touring career, he said, he's 77 and doesn't need the strain on his knees. Despite his age and status in the industry, though, Rogers has not rested on his laurels. Over the last five years, he has put out three entirely new albums: The Love of God, You Can't Make Old Friends, and Once Again It's Christmas. Those "records, I feel, are some of my very best work," Rogers says. "Recording new music is a process I really love." He probably won't quit that.
As for legacy, Rogers points to one tune as his trademark: "The Gambler."
"I think it's a testament to who I am as an artist and entertainer. I love what it said, I loved the way it said it, and I loved the rhythm and lyric of the song, the cadence," Roger said. "My singing range goes well beyond that song, but I love telling stories, especially with songs that have strong melodies. It just painted this wonderful picture. There's much more to that song than gambling. It's really more of a philosophy, how to live your life. I think that's what people like about it."