Toby Keith More Than OK in Oklahoma

PRYOR, Okla. — Those expecting escalation in the long-running battle between Toby Keith and the Dixie Chicks over their wildly varying political views might be surprised to know that Keith, in one of his first concerts since the ACM Awards show, said nothing whatsoever about the famed Texas trio. Instead, he talked about an earlier conflict with ABC-TV’s Peter Jennings — and then brought Dan Rather out to wave to the crowd! (Rather’s traveling with him for a time.)

The Friday night (June 13) appearance came at an outdoor event called Country Fever in Pryor, Okla., a couple of hundred miles northeast of his hometown of Moore. Going on at 11 p.m., Keith topped a bill that included Lonestar, Terri Clark, Collin Raye and Rodney Atkins.

There were plenty of opportunities for Keith to unload on the Chicks and their lead singer, Natalie Maines, whose wearing of an “F.U.T.K.” shirt during a segment of the ACM show reportedly angered Keith, who exited the event before winning the entertainer of the year award. And, in fact, neither he nor anyone else on stage mentioned him winning the biggest ACM award of the year. But even in a videotaped intro featuring a bulldog (with the voice-over apparently done by Keith himself) who busied himself by ogling females both human and canine and urinating on a cell-phone user and a newspaper photo of Osama bin Ladin, there was no shot at the Chicks. The only reference the whole night came when one of the video operators at the event scanned the crowd and lingered for a moment on a woman in an “F.O.D.C.” blouse.

Appearing on a stage decorated in a vaguely urban way, simulated gray brick in front of the risers, with chained-off areas for some of the musicians and a big faux culvert opening on one side, Keith rose up out of the very top of the set and slid down a ramp on his boot heels, beginning the show with the hard-charging rodeo song “Gimme Eight Seconds.” For the next hour and fifteen minutes, Keith — in rolled-brim straw hat, his shirttail out and a bandana around his neck — did what amounted to a greatest-hits show, studded with aggressive, punchy signature tunes like “You Ain’t Much Fun,” “A Little Less Talk” and the ode to frontier justice, “Beer for My Horses.” The latter, currently riding atop the national country charts, is a duet with 70-year-old Willie Nelson — who, Keith pointed out, is now the oldest country star ever to have a No. 1 record.

Nelson figured in another tune Keith did as well. In the only non-hit portion of the program, Keith brought guitarist Scotty Emerick, one of his 10 sidemen that night, including three horn players, up front to duet on a couple of what they called “bus songs” — tunes they make up and sing for their own amusement, knowing the record company wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole. Accompanied only by Emerick’s guitar, the two sang an amusing number about smoking dope in Nelson’s bus, as well as a jingoistic offering about an Afghanistan native with “a two-bedroom cave” encountering America’s might as we “flipped a boner at the Taliban.”

The show’s centerpiece, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” featured huge showers of red, white and blue confetti and flames shooting from the stage. Keith strummed a guitar emblazoned with the Stars and Stripes, and video images depicted America’s military forces, including a few shots of his own veteran father. Both numbers — the single-guitar, two-voice “bus song” and the big song with its spectacular stage presentation — reflected Keith’s own “Angry American” bent and his unabashed and fierce love-it-or-leave-it patriotism.