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Veteran singer Kenny Rogers brings the Christmas leg of his farewell tour to Bloomington's Grossinger Motors Arena at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

PIPER FERGUSON, For The Pantagraph

The man in the white hair and beard who turns up here every other Christmas or so isn't always that jolly elf from up North.

Since 2006, Santa's seasonal double, snowy-maned Kenny Rogers, has spent no fewer than four out of those 11 holiday seasons offering Twin Citians his annual Christmas show.

Not bad, considering the 2006 show marked only Rogers' second time on a B-N stage in a 65-year career that extends all the way back to the ’50s doo-wop era and the band The Scholars (first Kenny hit: "Poor Little Doggie").

There was one infamously abortive attempt thereafter to bring a Rogers show to town, with a superstar co-star in tow ... more about that shortly. 

And there was a restaurant bearing his whiskery visage staring down at diners for several years at Towanda and Vernon in Bloomington ... more about that shortly, too.

But there were few concerts at all until the when-it-snows-it-drifts years of recent Christmas times.

Following Rogers' 2006 holiday debut, he returned in 2009, then again in 2014, and now this week, presumably for the last time ever, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Bloomington's Grossinger Motors Arena (also the site of the prior three holiday shows).

Over that decade, Rogers adorned the cover of the GO! section no fewer than three times.

This week's edition makes it the fourth, even though he passed on our interview request for the first, and, again we presume, last time.

Either way, four GO! covers in 11 years is an all-time section record for any artist. 

Dubbed, as always, the "Christmas and Hits Tour," this year's edition is a sub-tour within Rogers' prevailing "Gambler's Last Deal World Farewell Tour."

That odyssey, begun a year or so back after Rogers' announced retirement from live touring, has been extended into 2018.

He turns 80 next August, so perhaps the plan is to hit that date with a grand finale.

But is this truly the last time we'll see Rogers live here, Christmastime or otherwise?

Time will tell.

For those keeping score, Rogers made his long overdue debut on a Twin Cities stage on the fall of 1989, sharing the stage of Illinois State University's Braden Auditorium with co-headliner Ricky Skaggs.

Just a year later, it was announced that one of the year's big twofers had been snared: Kenny and Dolly Parton on the stage of Illinois State University's Redbird Arena.

The Nov. 13 event came a cropper two months prior when it was announced the show was being canceled, with Parton citing vague "previous recording commitments" she had to honor.

The last pre-Coliseum appearance of Rogers' whiskery visage in the Twin Cities was when his short-lived restaurant chain, Kenny Rogers Roasters, opened at Vernon and Towanda avenues in Bloomington.

In a foreshadowing of Rogers' appearances to come, the opening was around Christmas in December 1996. 

But no Christmas hit this: The restaurant was gone within a few years after the chain filed for bankruptcy.

In what was perhaps a portent of things to come, a Pantagraph Underground Gourmet review noted that "at 6:15 p.m. on a Saturday we were informed through the (drive-thru) squawk box that Kenny Rogers had run out of chicken. Come back in a half hour ... we should have some chicken by then, for sure!"

For sure, they complied. But: "Sadly, though, Kenny Rogers Roasters was still out of chicken." The restaurant was out of business not too long after that product shortage.

But not its more dependable namesake, who as mentioned, started turning regularly here a decade ago.

The holiday show tradition began, he told us in a previous interview, back in the late 1970s.

"I was doing my regular show and I was giving an interview before the show. The guy asked me, 'Are you doing any Christmas music?.' It was Dec. 13, and I hadn't planned it. So I asked the guys in the band, 'Do you know "O Holy Night"?'

The boys in the band answered in the affirmative. So, instead of "Lady" or "The Gambler," Rogers rolled the dice and out came "O Holy Night."

"The response was amazing," he recalled. "So the following year, I put three (Christmas) songs in the show, and the next year I put in five. Eventually, I began doing shows that were ALL Christmas music. It became a way to cleanse my musical palate."

That holiday trend climaxed with Rogers writing an entire holiday stage show called "The Toy Shoppe" as a way of diversifying his holiday musings. It premiered on Broadway and ran for a season, then went on to tour several years.

By the time of his first B-N show a decade ago, Rogers had whittled "The Toy Shoppe" down to its basics, incorporating elements of it into the framework of "Christmas and Hits," along with a vocal assist from local schools and choirs (this year, it's the University High School Choir, under the direction of Chris Corpus).

As for the future of Kenny?

In our 2014 interview, two years before he announced the current farewell tour, he was already looking ahead, along with one of his most famous musical partners, Dolly Parton.

In a recent encounter, he said, "Dolly, who has no filters, comes up and puts her arm around me and says, 'I want to be the one who sings at your funeral.'"

Rogers paused to reflect on the offer, which he gladly accepted.

"Which means, I guess, that I'll be going first."

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