Toby Keith Perfects the Summer Tour

He's Got Heavy Roadwork Ahead While Awaiting Release of New Film

Toby Keith is a busy man in the days leading up to the Aug. 8 theatrical release of his new film, Beer for My Horses, a comedy he wrote with one of his co-stars, comedian Rodney Carrington. Most nights this summer, though, he can be found onstage during his Biggest & Baddest tour featuring Montgomery Gentry, Carter’s Chord, Mica Roberts and Trailer Choir.

“We’ve got it all down to some kind of perfect science,” Keith told CMT Insider during a recent interview before a concert in Southern California. “This is why we got in the entertainment business.”

One of the few artists of any genre who qualify to release an album titled 35 Biggest Hits, Keith talked about the songs he can’t omit from his live shows and what he expects when he sees another artist in concert.

CMT: Are these outdoor amphitheaters the best?

Keith: The best. This is my world out here. I just have a great time out here. I mean, if there was a hundred of them, I’d probably go do a hundred. That outdoor party crowd is what I built my career on.

How do you take the performance up a notch every year after you’ve done it so many times?

The most difficult part of that is just trying to figure out what we don’t play. I’ve got a 35 Biggest Hits in stores. So obviously we can’t stand out there for three and a-half hours and do 35 hits, but what do you play in your two hours? Some of these venues have curfews. You just have to sit there and struggle and say, “What do I play? What do I not play?” You’ve also got to work new stuff in, so if you’ve got a new single or a new album coming, you’ve got to get all that in there. So each year it just changes … and you get a different set every year. You restructure your set and make it a brand new stage setup. I always have to do “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” “How Do You Like Me Now?!” “Who’s Your Daddy?” Those kinds of songs are just staples, so you can’t change those.

What do you enjoy the most while you’re onstage?

Hearing all those people sing your stuff back to you. I mean, they know every word to every song, and that shows you how big those songs are and how important they are to them. … I don’t get to see too many these days, but when I do get to see a concert [by another artist], the thing that rubs me wrong about watching somebody who’s had a lot of hits is, if they haven’t been working a while, they want to put their new album on you. And that’s OK. A few of those [new songs] are OK, but I want to hear your hits, man. I came here because I want to hear what you do. I came here tonight because I want to hear what you made me come here for. And I think that for anybody that puts their money down for their ticket, there’s a little bit too much promoting in these shows. I’ve never been that way. I just line them up and play them and try to put them in the best order where the crowd gets to go on a rollercoaster and have some really high moments in the show. … We’ve got it orchestrated in a pretty good order.

You have a lot of things going. Is there a level of satisfaction that you get onstage that you don’t get in any of the other things?

Yeah, the live reaction. … If you’ve got people standing out there who have bought a ticket and you can see their faces, it puts a lot of joy in your heart to see that they paid that much and came to the show. Everybody [in the music industry] was worried to come and out and tour this summer because of gas prices. The country’s in such a recession over gas — and it’s getting worse all the time — so we didn’t know what to expect. You never know when that’s going to crunch people’s extra money that they have lying around. But it hasn’t affected us. Here we are. You’ll see tonight it’s the same as it’s always been. But to know that they’ve put their hard-earned money down and they’ve decided to spend their discretionary income on your show and then they’re gonna stand out there and have a great night, drink a couple cold ones, put their fist in the air and have a great time, you can’t replace that. You can’t get that out of a can. You know I can’t get that anywhere, and that’s what makes me high.

Terry Bumgarner is a producer for CMT Insider.