Toby Keith says a Rolling Stone magazine report about a heated encounter with Kris Kristofferson at Willie Nelson’s 70th birthday concert in New York City in 2003 is “100 percent fiction.” The account begins an extensive feature story about Kristofferson written by actor Ethan Hawke for the magazine’s April 16 issue which hit newsstands Friday (April 3).
Keith’s denial of the story came Friday during an interview with CMT Insider’s Allison DeMarcus during rehearsals for the Academy of Country Music Awards show in Las Vegas.
Although Hawke does not mention Keith by name, the story refers to “one of country music’s brightest stars” who “at that moment in time … had a monster radio hit about bombing America’s enemies back into the Stone Age.” It describes an exchange at the Beacon Theater in a room filled with an array of musicians including Elvis Costello, Wyclef Jean, Norah Jones, Shelby Lynne and Paul Simon.
According to the Rolling Stone article, the star in question emerged from the theater’s basement to wish Nelson a happy birthday before telling Kristofferson, “None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.” The report goes on to say that Kristofferson replied, “What the f**k did you just say to me?” and that Kristofferson followed it up by asking, “You ever worn your country’s uniform?” Kristofferson reportedly then told the star, “You heard the question. You just don’t like the answer,” and asked again, “Have you ever served your country?’ The answer is, no, you have not. Have you ever killed another man? Huh? Have you ever taken another man’s life and then cashed the check your country gave you for doing it? No, you have not. So shut the f**k up!”
The story claims that Ray Charles was standing nearby while the exchange took place.
Keith was not aware of Hawke’s feature story until asked about it during the CMT Insider interview. After reading it, he said he never had such an encounter with Kristofferson.
“Kris and I are good friends and have come close to working on a couple of projects,” Keith said. “I don’t have to defend myself on this. This is 100 percent fiction. And I’d bet a million dollars on a lie detector test that this didn’t happen.”
Referring to the Rolling Stone story, Keith said, “So whoever he’s talking about that he left nameless, there was a reason he left them nameless. He was insinuating me, which means he left it nameless because he doesn’t want to deal with that.”
As for Hawke, Keith said, “I don’t care who he is. I don’t know who he is. But you don’t want to be sitting in a restaurant and have somebody come up and tap you on the shoulder and ask you a bunch of questions, and you can always say, ’I didn’t say it was you.’
“You know, when I call somebody out, I say their name. So, you can talk to Kris and you can talk to Willie. … They’ll all laugh and say it didn’t happen. … Somebody’s trying to get fiction in whatever magazine to make themselves a story. But if anybody does have anything to take this any further, I’m available. … They can find out the truth.”
Keith recalls rehearsing his song “I’ll Never Smoke Weed With Willie Again” at the Beacon Theater for Nelson’s birthday concert.
“And as soon as I was done, they said somebody’s gonna speak — and I don’t remember if it was Robert DeNiro or Bill Clinton — and they said, I think, Ray Charles is on his way to the venue. Well, I had never seen Ray, so we went out and stood in the empty chairs, and [one of the members of Aerosmith] said, ’I ain’t gonna miss this.’ … ZZ Top may have come out and watched that, too. … They led Ray on from the right side and Leon Russell was on the left and Willie was in the middle. I stood and watched Willie cry. Of course Ray, couldn’t see him, but Willie cried the whole time, and Ray played and they sang. The whole thing got quiet in there, and it was really mysterious and touching, like nothing you ever saw.”
Connecting his recollections of the evening to the Rolling Stone story, Keith said, “For somebody to use their star power to get in and then create some shit like this is just unfortunate for everybody. But, you know what? When you climb the flagpole the highest, the more people can see your butt.”