I know what you're thinking: Kenny Rogers? The country singer? The hold 'em/fold 'em guy? Why are you writing about his Bonnaroo set? I could be looking at your Best Photos or Day 4 Highlights or really anything else. Why do I care?
Why? Because he delivered the most exciting set of the day and brought out the best guest of the festival not named D'Angelo. Here are five reasons why I went into the show expecting nothing and came out writing this post:
5. He Mocks Himself
"Kenny Rogers and Bonnaroo: What's wrong with this picture?" said the singer at the start of the set. "But I belong here. Know how I know? I have a bracelet." Throughout the 75-minute set, Rogers made fun of himself multiple times, genuinely perplexed why Bonnaroo organizers would want to book a singer with more than 120 charted singles and one of the most influential catalogs in country and pop music. At one point, Rogers referenced his 1977 hit "Lucille," among others, and noted, "I've made a hell of a career singing about dysfunctional families."
4. He Mocks His Audience
At 73, Rogers is allowed to have his "Get off my lawn" Eastwood-in-Gran-Turino side, as the singer jokingly berated the multi-generational crowd for their lack of singing, clapping and swaying skills. "I just have to say you guys are terrible singers," said Rogers repeatedly. "They did it better in Quebec and they don't even speak English." The singer was no kinder to those who swayed during one song: "For God's sake, quit swaying. You look like thousands of Ray Charles." The pseudo-anger was only temporary, as Rogers threw out multiple tambourines into the crowd later on.
3. He Only Played the Hits
"My audience is made up of two kinds of people," said Rogers. "Those born after the '60s and those born before that, but don't remember the '60s. So I'm gonna do every hit I've ever had." He did just that, ensuring even casual fans recognized songs like "Through the Years," "Islands in the Stream" and "The Gambler." Rogers also performed 1978's "She Believes in Me," which he called "his personal favorite."
2. He Received the Key to the City
"Um, I'm not really sure how to set this up," admitted Rogers. Fans began to speculate on special guests or an unexpected cover, only to see Betty Superstein, mayor of Manchester (Bonnaroo's home city), join Rogers onstage with various city councilpersons and a local teacher to present the singer with the Key to the City. While it's unclear when Rogers will return to Manchester and, if so, which doors he will need to open, it was a poignant gesture, as the singer joins past Key recipients B.B. King, Kris Kristofferson and 8-year-old crime-fighter Landon Crabtree.
1. He Brought Out Lionel Richie
Midway through his 1980 romantic ballad "Lady," Rogers was joined onstage by the song's writer and producer Lionel Richie, who is still cooler than all of us. Clad in all-black with black sunglasses, the R&B singer and longtime friend of Rogers sang a loose, rambunctious version of the song with his mentor, with the duo performing most of the song with their arms around the other's shoulder. "That was so close to being an unhealthy relationship," said Rogers. Richie subsequently sat Rogers down on a stool and performed his 1983 R&B-pop hit "All Night Long." The connection to Rogers was nil, but who cares when thousands of people are screaming, "Jambo jumbo!"?