Meeting Toby Keith

On Thursday night, I had the opportunity to go see Toby Keith live in concert at Northern Quest Casino in Spokane. Prior to seeing him, my bucket list of people I needed to see in concert were Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith. This was a huge deal to me. A couple years ago Toby came to the Spokane Arena but I was in New York and missed it. Even though I was watching Yankees games and Mets games in the Big Apple, I felt terrible that I missed a chance to see one of my all-time favorite artists perform.
I almost thought I was going to miss Toby again this time around. As I blogged about last night, I was in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for a cheerleading  camp. I thought I would be locked in at the hotel with our squad on Thursday night. However, on Monday of last week I learned that I would be able to skip out for a few hours and attend the concert. Immediately upon hearing this news I jumped on stubhub (read my blog about stubhub) and bought a couple tickets. No price was going to make me miss this show.
On Thursday night, my brother was nice enough to come down from Spokane and pick my boss (Christie) and I up at the hotel we were staying at during the camp. We then made the drive out to Northern Quest Casino. If you remember my Reba concert experience from last week, you know that Northern Quest Casino was the venue that she performed in as well. Not a bad couple weeks for concerts at Quest. Just like for the Reba show, the weather was perfect. Comfortable temperature, light wind, little humidity. Christie and I were ready to rock.
The first opening act was J.T. Hodges, a relatively new face on the country music scene. Before going in, I knew of one song of his, “Hunt You Down,” as it has received quite a bit of air time on CMT. During his set he also sang a song about small towns that both Christie and I liked. He probably only played about six songs, which is custom for the first opening act in a show where there are multiple opening acts. He seemed cool and definitely had a good voice. I will look for him as more of his stuff comes out.

                                   JT Hodges performing on Thursday night.

Christie and I watched J.T. Hodges from afar but after he finished we moved right up to the front of the stage where my brother and I were for Reba. Once again, no one said a word to us as we  got a better view than most people who were shelling out major dollars to have seats close to the stage.
One of my favorite young country singers, Eric Church, was the second (and final) opening act. I saw Church once before in a small venue a few years ago and even though his only big hit at the time was “Guys Like Me,” I really enjoyed his show. Fast forward three years and about five hits later and I was psyched to see Eric Church perform again. This guy was great. He came out on stage drinking beer and shooting water into the crowd and he kept a high level of energy throughout the whole show. He has a cockiness to him that reminds me a lot of Jack Ingram which I liked. I went nuts when he sang “Hell on the Heart,” my favorite Eric Church song. I thought his performance of it in concert was better than on his album. Church has a large contingent of female fans who are obsessed with him. I think every single one of them showed up for the Spokane concert. At the end of his set, Church chugged two Busch Light beers on stage and then exited. Graceful.

                               Eric Church during his set. Great performer.

Toby Keith has a reputation for doing everything big. His concerts are not just concerts, they are major productions. Pyrotechnics, large video screens, and crazy lights are all characteristics of his shows. On Thursday night, all of these things were present. Before he came out a video played on the large screen in the back of the stage with a bunch of talking dogs setting the tone for Toby’s performance. Once the video ended, Toby stormed the stage singing “Bullets in the Gun.” He then transitioned right into “Made in America” and the show was on. Toby himself is larger than life. While he was up on stage I got to see how it is no lie that he is 6 feet 4 inches. I would guess he is around 250 pounds. As I mentioned with Reba, when you are such an established star with so many hits, your concert is going to be exciting the whole way through. Toby spread out his best songs perfectly throughout the show.

                             Toby’s opening video before he took the stage.

One person asked me on Friday if the crowd at the show was crazy. You know, I would not say it was too out of control. To be honest, when it comes to our little area by the stage, I would say Christie and I were the ones having the most fun. We were dancing and yelling while other people kind of just looked on. Yes, we were those annoying people at the concert who were belting out the lyrics with Toby instead of letting him just take it away himself. Who cares, we were having fun.
                               We were pretty close to Toby!!
Toby sang one of my all-time favorite country songs of all time, “Should’ve Been A Cowboy” towards the end of his set, and I would say it was my fondest memory of the concert. He played to the audience when he sang his bar song classics such as “Get Drunk And Be Somebody,” “Good As I Once Was,” and “I Love This Bar.” Toby also sang a song called “Get Out of My Car” which I had never heard before but was hilarious! Believe me, google it and read the lyrics. He sang Elvis’ “Little Less Conversation” which was a nice surprise. For his encore he sang his patriotic songs, “American Soldier” and “Angry American.” For “Angry American” his passion and heart was delivered in every single lyric and the fireworks were shooting up in the air. It was a great moment.

                                            Our view of Toby…no zoom!!

I left the outdoor concert venue at Northern Quest thinking I had been about ten feet away from Toby Keith and that was the closest I was ever going to get to the Big Daddy in my life. Little did I know that during that night, the ten feet was going to change to about ten inches.
After the concert, my brother, Christie, and I ate dinner at The Q, a restaurant inside Quest. After dinner we hit the tables for a little gaming. Christie and I played Spanish 21 while Glen played Blackjack. After we had had enough, we started to walk out when suddenly I saw something strange. I looked to the other side of the Quest casino floor and I saw two large men standing behind a chair at one of the Three Card Poker tables. This immediately looked out of place to me so I looked down to who they were standing above…it was Toby Keith.
There was absolutely no mistaking that it was Toby Keith. As I have said in previous posts, I do not get star struck but if there is anyone who I have deep celebrity admiration for, it is Toby Keith. I excitedly told Glen and Christie that we were going to go over to the table. We crossed over and I had Glen sit down a couple seats from Toby and had him buy-in so that he could say he gambled with Toby Keith! We watched them gamble for a couple minutes before I got the nerve to speak up.
I used the exact same line I used on Sunny Sweeney the week before: “Hey Toby, that was a great show!”
Toby Keith looked over his right shoulder, realized it was me who said that to him, and then he stretched out his clenched fist and gave me a pound! He then moved his fist in Christie’s direction and gave her a pound and asked us how we were doing! I then told him that we had come all the way from Missoula to see him in concert (which was a lie because we were already in Coeur d’Alene for cheer camp but I thought it sounded good). He then responded that he and his band flew into Missoula so they could go vacation in Big Sky! He then asked us how far Missoula was from where he was at right now. I personally could not imagine how draining it must be on tour, going from place to place. After a while everything all has to blur together and you completely lose your sense of direction/geography. We then asked him about where he was going to go next (it was Portland, Oregon). After a little more small talk he thanked us for coming out and returned to his gambling.
A couple observations about Toby from our encounter with him:
*He is an extremely nice guy who takes the time to acknowledge his fans even when he is trying to relax after a long show.
*When we got up close to him, his facial features were pretty much just the same as anyone else. Sometimes celebrities go through plastic surgery/botox/etc. that really distinguish themselves from average joes but not Toby.
*Toby’s real distinguishing feature is his voice!!! When he talked, it was vintage Toby Keith. His voice does not change when he is on stage, when is doing interviews, or when he is talking to his fans. I will always remember for the rest of my life him addressing Christie and I in his signature deep, southern drawl.
*His drink of choice: Michelob Ultra
*Toby was gambling $100 on his main bet. He also had $100 on the bonus bet. In Three Card Poker after you see your hand you have to match your initial bet if you feel that you are going to beat the dealer before the dealer turns over his/her cards. Toby bet it regardless of what his hand was every single time. Obviously, this meant that each hand Toby was betting $300.
*At one point, Toby re-bought for $2,000. He gave the dealer twenty $100 bills. It was cool watching the dealer sprawl the twenty bills all across the table (yes, Floor was called).
*Believe it or not, Toby stiffed the dealer when they changed out while members of his band tipped him. Toby very well could have set up something with Quest where they were tipped in a less public fashion.
The three of us were the first people to spot Toby. However, more and more people started to catch on and they started to crowd around the table. Christie was having a great time chatting up Toby’s big and bald body guard. He gave her some very interesting information about the tour. As the crowd started to grow and grow and with Glen at about even on his gambling at the table, we decided to head out. We said our goodbyes and went back to Coeur d’Alene. The whole experience reaffirmed to me the advice I live by: Don’t Blink.

                                     Christie and I had a great time!