RIYADH: Country music star Toby Keith, celebrated in Middle America for his songs referencing communal drinking and patriotic fervour, will perform a free, male-only concert in Saudi Arabia as President Donald Trump visits.
Keith – who frequently performs for US troops overseas, often raising his middle finger in the air in an unsubtle message to foreign adversaries – will play Saturday in Riyadh in a rare concert in the ultra-conservative cradle of Islam.
Keith will share the stage with Saudi singer Rabeh Sager, according to an advertisement circulated online.
“An Arabian lute and American guitar unite in a star-studded night,” said the advertisement.
The duo will perform for an audience made up only of men who should be above 21 and dressed in traditional Saudi thawb tunics. Access is free of charge.
Saudi Arabia – which enforces a strict interpretation of Islam that includes a total prohibition of alcohol and a separation of men and women – is an unlikely destination for Keith, who packs arenas in the heartland of the United States.
Keith, usually clad in a cowboy hat, has a long list of songs exploring the cathartic effects of alcohol including “I Love This Bar,” “Whiskey Girl,” “Get Drunk and Be Somebody,” “Drinks After Work” and “Drunk Americans.”
“Beer For My Horses,” one of Keith’s best-known songs, sings of getting tough on crime and corruption.
The Oklahoma-born singer has often raised eyebrows for the intensity of his nationalist sentiments, with detractors calling him jingoistic.
“Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” released in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, memorably has the line, “We’ll put a boot in your ass / It’s the American way.”
In “The Taliban Song,” Keith describes ordinary Afghans praying for US forces to drive out the foreign fighters of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda – which was led by the Saudi-born Osama bin Laden. In the chorus, Keith sings, “Ride, camel, ride!”
Keith did not immediately comment on the trip to Saudi Arabia. On his social media accounts, he instead posted a performance snippet of himself with the line, “When the bartender wants to cut you off for the night.”
Trump, a property tycoon who ran vowing to bar Muslims from the United States, has chosen Saudi Arabia as his first foreign visit since taking office. He is scheduled to hold a summit with Arab and Muslim leaders on Sunday.
The United States has often enlisted celebrities to promote the image of the United States overseas, but Trump has faced deep opposition in the art world.
Keith was the most famous performer at Trump’s inauguration in January, a striking contrast to his predecessor Barack Obama who throughout his presidency hobnobbed with mega-stars such as Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen and U2.
Keith, however, has downplayed his ties to Trump and has spoken favourably in the past about Obama.
The concert comes as part of attempts to open up Saudi Arabia, which bars women from driving and prohibits public cinemas and theatres.
The desert kingdom has created a government agency to support private firms organising entertainment events, under a wideranging “Vision 2030” plan for economic and social reform.