Q&A: Toby Keith
Toby Keith is a Las Vegas presence and then some. In addition to performing at the MGM Grand Dec. 9 during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, Keith is the namesake for Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill at Harrah’s. He performed in Las Vegas earlier this year as well (as part of the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Sept. 30-Oct. 2), and stopped by his restaurant to celebrate its 10th anniversary. While there, he spoke with Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen about what NFR means to an Oklahoma City boy.
You’ll be back in Vegas for NFR when this interview comes out. What’s your history like with NFR? Does it have special meaning for you?
Dad used to go to it when it used to be in Oklahoma City, my hometown, so as a kid I went to all the events. Dad had tickets so we all went to Vegas when we were kids and saw a lot of great rodeo moments there. I saw Chris Ledoux win the championship. I saw Donnie Gay and Larry Mahan, all them guys come to Oklahoma City. So I have a lot of memories. In fact, before my dad passed away, when I would play Vegas during NFR as a newcomer he would come out here with me and go to rodeo instead of my show, but it was his reason to come. It’s real important to the people of Oklahoma.
Does it bring you a little closer to the memory of your dad since he died?
Yeah, I mean every time I come here. I was playing different venues then and I was the new guy, but yeah I always think of my dad when I think of National Finals.
We are three hours away from your headlining set at Route 91 Harvest Festival. What should fans at Las Vegas Village expect tonight—and perhaps fans who will be coming to see you in December?
We’re really in sync right now. We’ve been out there killing it since (going on tour in) June. The band is on top. We’ve got 40 songs but we probably can’t get to them all. Whatever I call tonight they’re on top, and I’ve got a new song “A Few More Cowboys” and a six or seven-minute tribute to Merle Haggard.
Yeah, I saw that, with “Mama Tried.” How have the fans been reacting to “A Few More Cowboys” live?
Just like it’s a smash. I don’t know if radio won’t still play a country song anymore but you’ll see when the crowd reacts. It’s just as big as a hit.
Congratulations on celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill. Do you think you’ve done your grandmother’s supper club justice?
No, not gram’s supper club. Gram’s supper club was more of a steak and shrimp and turkey fries place, a little more old school, but she’d be proud I’m walking in her shadow, yeah.
You’re recognized as the most successful lifestyle brands entrepreneurs in show business. Did you have any idea 10 years ago that it would get this huge?
I thought this bar would do really good. The ones we’ve had that have had great operators have done really, really good and have been open for 10 years. This is the first one, and the other two or three would be right behind it. Their 10-year anniversaries are coming up pretty soon, and they’ve all done well.
I understand you’ve done some recording lately, probably the first song cycle since you won the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame award. Do you feel like you’ve got the wind at your back a little after that? Did it affect your songwriting?
It was easier, it was easier. You know, when they tell you you’re the man, you believe it (laughs). No, it’s all the same to me. We just write, write, write all the time and it just ends up being what I do. I kind of funnel it all into me, the artist, and so I got real lucky. I’m a real lucky artist to have real wonderful songwriters, is what I am.
What’s your hat size?
Seven and five/eighths. I’m 6 foot 8 inches if anyone wants to know that too.
I knew that. And 240 pounds.