Kenny Rogers
Veteran entertainer Kenny Rogers is back by popular demand tonight at Bloomington’s U.S. Cellular Coliseum, where he pleased the crowd just two holiday season ago. This time he’s bringing along fellow country singer Rebecca Lynn Howard.

Much as we like to think we're pretty darned special here, it's a fact of entertainment life: We're usually just one stop among dozens for most star performers.

Take the current stopover by that long-running silver fox, Kenny Rogers, who is occupying Bloomington's U.S. Cellular Coliseum front and center at 7:30 tonight -- just as he did three years ago.

For those of you splitting hairs (especially the long silvery kind), it was three years, two weeks and six days ago (Nov. 27, 2006).

Same singer; same holiday show ("Kenny Rogers' Christmas and Hits Tour").

Back by popular demand, as they say.

On a recent December morn, traveling the "Christmas and Hits Tour" bus, Rogers 'fesses up: No, sorry, but he doesn't recall spending part of the '06 holiday season with us.

He seems deeply regretful over his forgotten whereabouts of 11/27/06.

But then he adds, helpfully, "Well, you know I do around 30 Christmas shows every Christmas."

Or, around 90 since '06.

"And," he continues, "I'm doing the same show every night."

He pauses to let that fact sink in. Then: "So they do, in fact, run together, I'm afraid."

Whether it's Bloomington, Ill., Ind., or Minn., who can say? "Unless I fall off the stage," he adds. "Then I remember."

Any remembrances yet?

"Not so far, though I may be working toward one," he laughs in that familiar sandpapery timbre that has pretty much rubbed its way over every pop musical style of his 50-year career, from doo-wop to jazz to folk to pop to rock to (most of all) country.

A la the '06 holiday show, the star will be lent a local helping hand tonight -- a backing choir sporting local vocal talent recruited by advance Rogers scouts from B-N schools and choirs.

Similarly, the show owns up to the tour's moniker, kicking off with around a 40-minute onslaught of as many hits as the hits-laden entertainer can pack in, followed by an hour of holiday vocal cheer.

NOT a la the '06 tour, he notes with pride, he's bringing along a new special guest, country singer Rebecca Lynn Howard.

At 30, she's 41 years younger. And with seven charted hits, her resume pales next to the main attraction's epic list of 70-plus chart-busters.

But then Rogers, whose age (71) matches his hit list, is no stranger to youth surrounding him.

His wife, Wanda, is around 30 years his junior (they wed 12 years ago); the fruits of their union, identical twin sons, are all of 5.

When last he visited us, the boys, Justin and Jordan, were still less-than ambulatory 2-year-olds. Three years later, Rogers notes, they are, um, ambulatory-and-then-some.

"A good part of my time is spent running around the house," says the father whose age is more typically associated with grandfathers and beyond. "I'd forgotten how much energy 5-year-olds have."

For the parental record, Rogers has fathered a daughter and two more sons over course of the four marriages that preceded the present union.

When he first experienced fatherhood while still in high school (!), did Rogers have a clue that he's still be chasing after toddlers in his 70s?

"It came about in a strange way," he confesses. "Because my wife is considerably younger, we had a deal when we got married that we wouldn't have any more kids."

For the nuptial record, the marriage is Rogers' fifth, Wanda's second. The pair first crossed paths 17 years ago when Wanda was a college student moonlighting as a restaurant hostess in Atlanta, Ga., where Rogers lives.

Rogers pursued. After a four-year courtship, she said "I do."

And they did ... maintaining that no-kids agreement along the way, says Rogers.

"Then around the time she was approaching 40, I realized that, while I didn't really want more kids at my age, I didn't want Wanda to wake up some day and say, 'I wished I'd married someone who wanted kids.'" 

So the agreement was neutered. And the rest is history, never mind that neither party could have predicted the surprising outcome.

"We didn't set out to have twins, we really didn't," he chuckles, adding that Wanda is one-half of an identical twin set herself.

In any event, the blessed event(s) "added life to both of us -- the whole magic of what children say and do, things you can't appreciate when they're someone else's kids."

Like the other day, for example.

"I'd been on Justin's case all day long, and as he turned the corner to go to bed, he looked at me and said, 'Dad, I'm really getting tired of you!'"

Instead of taking offense, Dad simply marveled, "Where did that come from?"

But then, he adds, with the awe of a man still experiencing the adventures of parenting: "I ask myself that every time they say anything!"


At a glance

What: Kenny Rogers' Christmas & Hits Tour

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: U.S. Cellular Coliseum, 101 S. Madison St., Bloomington

Tickets: $45 and $58

Box office: 800-745-3000


Tumbling dice

Some highlights of the career gambles that have paid off for Kenny Rogers:

• Mid -'50s: Joins doo-wop group, The Scholars, and sings on their hit single, "Poor Little Doggie"

• Early '60s: Becomes one-third of jazz-leaning The Bobby Doyle Trio

• 1966: Joins upbeat folk troupe The New Christy Minstrels

• 1967: He and three fellow Minstrels defect to form funkier pop group First Edition, later known as Kenny Rogers & First Edition

• 1976: Leaves First Edition to go it alone

• 1977: Becomes Nashville megastar with monster hit "Lucille," followed by even bigger "Coward of the County" from 1978's "The Gambler"

• 1980: Turns actor with TV-movie adaptation of "The Gambler" and beaucoup sequels

• 1983: Becomes duet specialist via mega-hit "Islands in the Stream," first of many Dolly Parton pairings

• 1986: Publishes first of his lavish photography tomes, "Kenny Rogers' America"

• 1991: Turns entrepreneur with own restaurant chain, "Kenny Rogers Roasters"

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