Robert Earl Keen describes "I Gotta Go" as his favorite song from his newest album, "Ready for Confetti."
"It's what I call a sky song," Keen said. "Sky songs just fall down on you. They're a gift. They're always easy to play. You record them and then you can sing them over and over. In the past, I've made some mistakes in lyrics, like for instance a grammatical error. There is none of that here."
"Ready for Confetti" is different from Keen's other 15 albums in several ways. Some songs have shorter lengths, unusual for Keen. And the album was written on the road, a process Keen once said he would never undergo. He usually writes in what he calls his "Scriptorium," a cabin on a hill.
In fact, he's writing on the road again.
"I'm going to sit down and do it," he promised in a call from Columbia, Mo., one of his tour stops. "We have traveled more miles than we have ever covered, this year. One of my players (guitarist Rich Brotherton) was in a terrible automobile accident, but is back now. We've had multiple illnesses in our office. But I am as well as I have ever been. I'm 56 and still acting like a teenager."
Keen's live performances, like one tonight at John Ascuaga's Nugget, are usually a lively mix of music and storytelling. Keen loves to tell stories because "it makes me feel like I'm a part of the audience that we have become one collective person," he said.
His stories, as his songs, usually come from personal experiences, like when he describes a recent hunting trip with a friend in Texas.
"We go hunting every fall, and he always seems to find a strange place," Keen said. "This year, it was in a landfill. Here we are in the middle of burning trash, hunting doves they shoot everything in Texas. It turns out the doves are smarter than people are and they would not land. Another hunter who is with us asks, well into the hunt, 'Where does he find these places?' It was not a successful hunt."
Keen, of late, seems to have become more comfortable in himself. He says he no longer feels the need to prove himself, nor does he feel like every song has to be thought-provoking. Not that the new album is without some sarcasm (check out "The Road Goes On and On") or is in any way mindless, but the tone of "I Gotta Go," which Keen said is "rhythmic, fun and upbeat," is far more prevalent.
There is also a cover of Todd Snider's "Play a Train Song" because Snider is one of Keen's favorite entertainers and also a storyteller.
"Todd is really narrative-oriented," Keen said. "He attracted me to that sort of writing. I hear stuff he does and I feel like I should have written it, could have written it, if I woke up and did it."
Keen's show tonight will showcase songs, and the band, from the album.
"They have been with me since 1987," Keen said of the band. "Too often, the musicians on a stage are not the ones who are on the records. And that's what sets us apart. They are the same musicians.
"Doing our shows is always a kick. The most common comment I hear after a show is 'I've been listening to you for 10 years and I should definitely have come to see you sooner. I had no idea.' " (9 p.m.; $28; 800-648-1177 or janugget.com).
It's a doubleheader this weekend at the Nugget as Kenny Wayne Shepherd, one of the country's prominent blues players and someone dedicated to preserving as much of the genre's heritage as possible, plays Saturday. (9 p.m.; $50).
The last and one of the most fun of Reno's street festivals has its 31st edition this Saturday and Sunday. The Eldorado Great Italian Festival is traditionally one of the most popular of such events including entertainment on two stages.
Scheduled this year are Mitch Franco, offering his renditions of Sinatra, Darin and Martin standards (4 p.m. Saturday, 1:45 p.m. Sunday); Moreno Fruzetti, an ambassador of Italian music (noon Saturday and Sunday); and concert artist Pasquale Esposito, who epitomizes the Italian tenor (10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday). Also on the bill are Ray Massa's Eurorhythms (10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Saturday, 11:30 a.m. Sunday), the cast of the Eldorado's "Jersey Nights" (1:30 p.m. Saturday, 1:15 p.m. Sunday), the Primo Basso Band (10:30 a.m. Saturday), Bella Ciao (2:30 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. Sunday), the Bronx Wanderers (12:30 p.m. Saturday, 3:45 p.m. Sunday), and Capuano n' T Rock (2:15 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday).
The festival runs 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday (eldoradoreno.com).
Carson Valley Inn
Cabaret Lounge: The Motifs, through Saturday; Paul Covarelli, Tuesday-Wednesday. (775) 782-9711.
Great Italian Festival, Saturday-Sunday. Showroom: "Jersey Nights," through Nov. 13. (800) 648-5966.
Comedy at the Zone: Rick D'Elia, today-Saturday, Oct. 12-13. (800) 427-7247.
Harrah's Lake Tahoe
South Lake Tahoe Food and Wine Festival, today-Sunday. South Shore Room: Super Diamond, Saturday (800) 427-7247.
Harveys, Lake Tahoe
Improv: Owen Benjamin, Frances Dilorinzo, through Sunday. (800) 427-8397.
Horizon, Lake Tahoe Illusion Fusion starring Alex Ramon, Thursdays-Tuesdays. (775) 588-6211.
Silver Legacy, Reno
Grande Exposition Hall: Kathy Griffin, today; Led Zeppelin Experience, Saturday. Reno Events Center: Carrie Underwood, next Friday. (800) 687-8733.