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Friday, Nov. 15, 2013

Duck Dynasty's Robertson Family Address Cable Stardom, Christianity and Hunting in Wisconsin

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Photo credit: Sara Bill
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It's not that there were that many waterfowl preying enthusiasts among the near-capacity crowd in the Riverside Theater Thursday evening. Phil Robertson, patriarch of the family featured on cable TV sensation “Duck Dynasty” only received applause and hollers from possibly an eighth of the audience at best when he asked how many duck hunters were in the seats.

But “Duck Dynasty” hasn't become the biggest show hit in A&E's history because of its appeal to an outdoor sports-lovers niche. The Robertson clan's life in swampy Louisiana, where they became millionaires by way of their company's duck calls and hunting miscellanea, has touched a chord among viewers because of their demeanor and lifestyle that defies stereotypes of rich folks in an environment that's exotic to many. Adding to their outsider/everyman appeal are the gloriously full, lengthy beards sported by many of the men in the family and the Christianity they espouse, vocal expression of the latter being a point of contention between the Robertsons and the cablecaster that has made them famous far outside their home state. Phil, his wife, Kay, and brother Si, came to the Riverside to promote multiple books written by the Robertsons (copies of which were given to ticket buyers) at an event that did so well at the box office that a second, earlier performance was added to meet demand.    

The Robertsons sat on a couple of leather couches alongside a moderator who asked questions provided by attendees in advance. Phil admitted the often staged nature of the production that has made them heroes and stars, but the three of them appear genuinely unaffected in any adverse way by the attention and adulation to which they've been subjected over the four seasons of their “Dynasty.”

Phil fits the role of gentle giant, in full camouflage regalia and fuller growth from his chin. He balances his intimidating physical stature with deep measured, speech, kind enough to express love for any PETA members in the audience, but insistent enough to let them know that they won't be deterring him from enjoying duck gumbo; dude doesn't seem  to smile much, but when he cracks a grin, he radiates an easy warmth akin to a darker-haired Santa Claus.

Si's more animated nature allowed him to be the only one of the family to arise from the sofa on occasion to add emphatic gesticulations to his chronicles of bayou life. His accent may be the most tough to follow , at times resembling a Deep South iteration of Hank Hill's motormouth friend Boomhauer on “King of The Hill,” showed down a few paces and minus the conspiracy ramblings. But he is the one younger “Duck Dynasty” viewers most want to adopt as their own kin, if only to hang out for a fun time.

If Kay appears content to cook (one of the books promoted at the event was one of her recipes), keep house and act as an integral business partner to her other half 's operation, she's also appears aware of her formidable position among the Robertsons. She's no pushover, but she doesn't lord over anyone, either, especially Phil,  to whom she's unabashedly deferential while remaining her own woman. Heck, she has her own tour bus with her face emblazoning its side.

It doubtless takes serious business acumen to manage and prosper a business empire that has sold over 1,000,000 duck calls, not to mention other Duck Commander goods and the merchandizing bonanza their television presence has produced.  But they make life seem so simple: love God and your neighbors; go hunting or enjoy nature however you like; don't count the cost of feeding others when you show hospitality; respect others as you want to be respected, but don't spare discipline when your children need it.

The most memorable sonic highlight of the night apart from the Robertsons' mellifluous drawls had to be Phil's demonstration of some of the bird-attracting noisemakers that have blessed his bank account. It looks to take about as much manual dexterity to manipulate a Duck Commander call as it does arm power to operate a set of bagpipes. And though he claims to enjoy Wisconsin cheese, he says that his hunting in the Badger State have shown him that shooters here could better operate his signature device.

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