Donald Trump may not have delivered on all of those manufacturing jobs he promised, but he won’t be arriving at his first overseas visit empty-handed. Instead, our president will show off one of our last remaining American exports: country singers with two first names. When you think great American pop country singers, you probably think Kenny Chesney or Keith Urban. About ten names further down on that list you’ll find Luke Bryan, a man who is occasionally confused with a lesser country act by the name of Toby Keith. And it is Toby Keith—a man who is not, and will never be, Luke Bryan—who will be performing in Saudi Arabia during Trump’s upcoming presidential visit.
Unlike the majority of Toby Keith concerts, which take place at county fairs or un-bookable inaugurations, this performance will occur in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. The historic nature of the event—the kingdom has only recently begun to support a select roster of entertainment events and concerts—only makes the sub-par talent more disappointing. It’s depressing enough if a Toby Keith concert is the most fun thing you have planned all weekend—imagine if it’s the most exciting event you’ll be attending all year. According to Saudi entertainment website Lammt, which is promoting the show, the concert will require a formal dress code and will be free of charge. Imagine flying 6,000 miles to Saudi Arabia to play a free concert. Imagine that you live in an ultraconservative society where live shows are few and far between, but you still aren’t willing to pay actual money to see Toby Keith.
In recent years, monster trucks and Comic-Con have come to Riyadh. But before you accuse the Saudi capital of becoming a Western-corrupted Sodom and Gomorrah, rest assured that the Toby Keith concert will not be a total free-for-all. Keith will be accompanied by the Arabian lute player Rabeh Saqer. Also, alcohol will be banned from the event and no women will be allowed on the premises. So if you’re a 21-plus single man in Riyadh with a taste for formal wear and a passion for American redneck culture, then boy do I have weekend plans for you.
It’s hard to pick out the single funniest aspect of this pork-free sausage fest. On the one hand, there’s the undeniable clash between Saudi Arabian values and the Oklahoma born and raised Toby Keith. It’s not just that Keith wrote a vengeance song about 9/11, “Courtesy Of The Red, White, And Blue (The Angry American).” It’s that when he’s not singing about how “justice will be served and the battle will rage,” he’s singing about getting blackout drunk. Almost every Toby Keith song—“Red Solo Cup,” “Whiskey Girl,” and “I Love This Bar,” to name just a few—is about drinking. Then there’s the greatest, stupidest Toby Keith song title of all, “Beer for My Horses.” Or as Mike Pence calls it, foreplay.
It’s hard to imagine lyrics like “Now red solo cup is the best receptacle / From barbecues, tailgates, fairs and festivals / And you sir do not have a pair of testicles / If you prefer drinkin’ from glass” really resonating with Saudi audiences. Then again, there’s something slightly comforting about the notion that bad taste transcends cultural specificities, like douches without borders. If nothing else, Saturday’s concert in Riyadh may very well be the first recorded instance of a sober person attending a Toby Keith concert.
The handful of important facts about Toby Keith includes his feud with the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines, an actually talented musician. After Maines called Keith’s lyrics “ignorant,” the country singer came back at her by showing his concertgoers a doctored photo of Maines and Saddam Hussein. This all culminated in Maines wearing a “FUTK” T-shirt to the Country Music Awards, in flagrant violation of yet another formal dress code. Keith’s other main claim to fame is that he actually agreed to play at Donald Trump’s inauguration concert, arguing that, “There’s no reason not to do it.” In later interviews, Keith insisted that the unpopular performance just made him stronger, explaining, “If you don’t succumb to that kind of pressure, you’ll always come out stronger: your fans will love you more, your friends will love you more, and at the end of the day, you just get another notch on your gun belt.” God bless America!
So to summarize: Saudi Arabia is pulling out all the stops for Trump’s visit, and America is repaying this hospitality by subjecting a Saudi audience to our country’s second-most famous Toby. On the other hand, the strict rules surrounding gender segregation ensure that not one woman will be forced against her will to attend this Toby Keith concert, which is more than you can say for America.