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The Most Interesting Kenny Rogers Tribute Artist in the World

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When you set out to do a Kenny Rogers tribute, what era is your money shot?

There's the psychedelic beginnings of the First Edition where Kenny "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Is In)" as well as the compelling cover of Mel Tillis' "Ruby Don't Take Your Love To Town." Then there's the best known Country Kenny.

Lastly, you have post-facelift Kenny where he looks like the Most Interesting Man in the World.
The great Neil Diamond tribute artist Denny Diamond dropped me a line to say his friend Marty Edwards will be performing his "Kinda Kenny" tribute to Kenny Rogers at 11:30 a.m. May 10th at White Fence Farm, 1376 Joliet Rd. (old Route 66) in Romeoville, Il. That is not a typo.
It is a Branson-like morning start.......

.....Tickets are $38 per person and include White Fence Farm's famous four piece chicken dinner with all the trimmings, one non-alcoholic beverage of your choice and vanilla ice cream for dessert. Tickets also include tax and gratuity. Group rates are available, (815-893-9202).

I say all of us at the Sun-Times take a long lunch break and head down Route 66 for this.

Edwards lives in Spokane, Wash. He has been doing "Kinda Kenny" for 15 years.
What did the Kenny facelift mean to his career?

"I like that question," Edwards said after a long laugh. "Actually, in a positive way, really. Kenny himself is not happy with the facelift. He's been on several TV shows talking about it. I've had people call to book me and they ask 'Do you have the original Kenny look or do you have that new look?' I say I have the original Kenny look and then they hire me. Then people ask me if I am going to do what he did with his face. Well, first, I couldn't afford what he did. And secondly, nobody likes it. And I'm not even him."


Kinda Kenny and Kinda Dolly.

Edwards has never performed at the White Fence Farm.
Central Illinois coal magnate Stuyvesant Peabody opened the White Fence Farm in 1925. His 100-seat roadhouse cafe was built near his Peabody mansion and Peabody's riding stable. After several ownership changes, Robert Hastert, Sr. purchased the diner in 1954 . In the early 1950s Hastert had owned the Harmony House Restaurant in Aurora as well as the Aurora Poultry Market.

Every winter the elder Hastert would close down the farm, which gave him ample time to tinker around his property. During one off-season, Hastert, Sr. even might have remodeled one of the restaurant's dozen farmhouse-styled dining rooms. He died in 1998 at the age of 83.

His son Bob Hastert, Jr. took over the operation. Hastert is a cousin of former Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert (1999-2007).
So at this chicken restaurant, you might see some right wing Republicans.
Asking a family member of a legacy family restaurant about a "secret" recipe is almost always a futile exercise. But not long after his father died, I almost got Hastert, Jr. to dish the farm's legendary mildly spiced, light crispy crust recipe.

"My dad was in the poultry business in Aurora," Hastert recalled during a conversation in the stable-like dining room of White Fence Farm. "I used to deliver chicken even before I had a driver's license. I drove a chicken truck around, many times to a place called the Chicken Joint, which in the late 1940s was one of the first fast-food operations there ever was.
"I'd see this pressure cooker, like your grandmother had - a round pot with a spigot on the top. When it got hot enough, the steam would come out of the spigot. So I'd watch this kid - and he was a kid - flour the chicken, put it in the pressure cooker, cook it, take it out, put it in the cooler and when somebody ordered it, they'd fry it."

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Bob Hastert, Jr. and his delivery truck.

In the old days, chicken shacks used fattening lard. Today the White Fence Farm uses a clear canola oil, with no fat and no grease.
This circles back to Kenny Rogers in a serendipitous way.

In 1991 Rogers and former Kentucky governor John Y. Brown, Jr. opened their chain of Kenny Rogers Roasters restaurants which featured wood-fired rotisseire chicken. Brown was an owner of Kentucky Fried Chicken between 1964 and 1971. I would always eat at the Kenny Rogers Roasters on Demonbreun Stret in Nashville when I was minding my travel budget. Even though an entire episode of "Seinfeld" revolved around Kramer's dedication ot Kenny Rogers Roasters, the chain went under in 2011. It still operates in Asia and the Phillipines.

"I'll give you a scoop," Rogers told me in a 1994 interview where he wasn't plugging his restaurant. "Sammy Davis Jr. originally intended to do 'Just Dropped In.' I couldn't imagine him doing it, but then he decided not to. Glen Campbell played guitar on that session, and Mike Post was the producer.

And here's something that probably isn't a scoop:
Expect Marty Edwards to sing Kenny's "Something Burning" at the luncheon performance.
With a straight face.

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Dave Hoekstra

Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. His collection of Sun-Times travel columns, "Ticket To Everywhere," was published in 2000 by Lake Claremont Press. He was lead writer for "Farm Aid: Song for America" (Rodale Press, 2005) which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Willie Nelson inspired effort.
He won a 1987 Chicago Newspaper Guild Stick O-Type Award for Column Writing. Hoekstra wrote and co-proudced the WTTW-Channel 11 PBS special: "The Staple Singers and the Civil Rights Movement," nominated for a 2001-02 Chicago Emmy for a documentary program/cultural significance.
He lives in Chicago.

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