Toby Keith performs hometown show for upcoming 'Neighborhood Sessions' TV special
Story by Brandy McDonnell Modified: September 2, 2015 at 5:09 am • Published: September 1, 2015
Toby Keith performs an invitation-only concert for about 500 people Tuesday night on a newly built stage behind Hollywood Corners. The intimate outdoor concert was filmed for the second installment in the State Farm "Neighborhood Sessions." A one-hour television special, "Neighborhood Sessions Featuring Toby Keith," is due to air on TBS in October. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman
NORMAN - Toby Keith took the stage at his new place in his old neighborhood and played new songs and old hits for an invitation-only crowd of about 500 people Tuesday night.
The country music superstar and his band put on the private show on a newly built stage behind Hollywood Corners, a 1920s-era roadhouse and service station in north Norman that he recently bought and revamped into a roadside delicatessen.
The intimate outdoor concert was filmed for the second installment in the State Farm "Neighborhood Sessions." An hourlong television special, "Neighborhood Sessions Featuring Toby Keith," is due to air on TBS in October, the same month the Oklahoma native will release his new album "35 MPH Town."
Tuesday's show was his first hometown concert since he organized and led the star-studded lineup at the 2013 Oklahoma Twister Relief Concert, a benefit event that packed the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
The "State Farm Neighborhood Sessions" are billed as special programs that offer big-name recording artists the chance to go back and give back to the communities that made them great. Each installment captures a neighborhood gathering and concert with a famous musician in his or her hometown. Footage from these events is used for a one-hour concert special for Turner Networks, which pairs the artist’s live performance with stories about neighbors who are currently inspiring greatness and making a difference in their community.
From left, University of Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione and Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis attend Toby Keith's State Farm "Neighborhood Sessions" performance. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman
Keith is the second music star to be featured in the "Neighborhood Sessions." The series took Jennifer Lopez back to The Bronx, N.Y., for the first installment, which aired in February.
Of course, Keith didn't have to return to the Moore-Norman area to shoot a TV special or do anything else: He still lives there not far from where he grew up.
But it did give him a chance to showcase Hollywood Corners, 4712 N Porter Ave., a semirural local landmark Keith recently partnered with Bob Thompson, owner of the Midway Grocery & Market near the University of Oklahoma, to revive. Their "deli in the country" has a long history dating back 90 years : The service station was first established in 1925 and legendary Western musicians Bob Wills, Leon McAuliffe and Merle Lindsay once played there. Late actor James Garner, who grew up in Norman, is said to have worked his first job there as a teenager, pumping gas.
"We're excited that we got Hollywood Corners open. My dad, I think he's wanted to buy it for 15 years. ... We eat here three times a week at least (now). This was a bait shop before we had it, and we always got our bait here. This was our gas station; I mean, this is the only thing out in the country. Literally, you'd have to go 10 minutes any other direction to get anything you can get right here. So this is our little country store," said Keith's daughter, Krystal Keith.
"He used to come here growing up, so it's perfect for him. The setting is amazing ... and I think it's cool to highlight such a cool community."
Although local legend has it that Bonnie and Clyde once spent the night in the cabins that used to be behind the old service station, there's now a stage that State Farm built for the TV special behind the old brick-and-clapboard building. Performing before family, friends and neighbors, Keith seized the newly built stage Tuesday night with his fervent anthem "Made in America."
"My last single that came out is a song that I wrote that reminds me of living out here. I grew up getting gas at this place," he said to introduce the title track from his upcoming album.
The recent Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee said most of the 11 songs on his set list were actually written not far from there or at least inspired by his hometown. The crowd eagerly sang along with his familiar smashes "As Good as I Once Was," "Beer for My Horses" "I Love This Bar" and "Red Solo Cup."
He invited hit-making songwriter-guitarists Mac McAnally and Scotty Emerick, who opened the show, back to the stage to help him pay homage to legendary Oklahoma songwriter Roger Miller. The star left the strumming to his cohorts and devoted himself fully to the vocal gymnastics of the late, great songsmith's witty hits "Chug-a-Lug" and "Dang Me."
His pals also joined him on a new song called "Rum Is the Reason," a catchy, Caribbean-inspired ditty. A last-minute addition to his new album, Keith said Emerick co-wrote the song with him, while MacAnally produced and played on the track, along with Jimmy Buffett's Coral Reefer Band.
Although the crowd reacted warmly to the breezy new song, it was a 15-year-old hit that got the biggest response of the night, with fans pumping fists and pointing at Keith while belting along to his defiant smash "How Do You Like Me Now?!" The singer-songwriter added an extra chorus to give the audience more time to sing along and finished the rowdy number by declaring "put that in your TV show."
Keith finished with a pair of sentimental favorites, "Should've Been a Cowboy," the first hit of his career, and "American Solider," his typical show closer. Keith left everything on the stage with his military salute, showing off both his big voice and his passion for the cause.