Another RodeoHouston moseyed into the sunset on Sunday, March 17, saving the biggest, and one of the best concerts, for last with an appearance by country legend George Strait.
Jason Kane, managing director of entertainment and concert production, is basking in the afterglow during a call the next morning. Overall, the annual music event was a success, drawing 1,337,725 attendees over three weeks to see top-tier talent take to the star-shaped stage. Talking to CultureMap, Kane says there were no major issues this season.
“The challenges we faced on a day-to-day basis are the things you get over, the cost of doing business,” says Kane.
That said, there is no such thing as a perfect event, and even Kane acknowledges a few things he would have liked to see work out differently. Here are the highs and lows of RodeoHouston 2019.
This was the most diverse lineup in the history of RodeoHouston — without giving up its strong focus on country and western music. Genres represented included pop, pop-rock, EDM, Latin music, classic rock, and hip-hop. The mix of sounds brought in new audiences to the rodeo grounds with rapper-du-jour Cardi B selling out in 40 minutes, Los Tigres del Notre packing NRG with Latin music fans, Zedd turning the stadium into massive rave warehouse, and pop star Camila Cabello bringing out the millennials en masse.
“I’m not sure I’d change much, and I really feel like with a lot of our shows, we really reflected the city of Houston," Kane says. "When I looked at the crowd, when we went out on the grounds, it almost looked like a physical picture of a census profile. At least for now, depending on upon where music goes, and what’s hot and what’s not, I think we’ve found a groove.”
A diverse line-up also meant diverse voices. Panic! at the Disco made their support for LGBTQ issues known, displaying the rainbow flag proudly during their performance of "Girls/Girls/Boys."
“Music has always led or reflected what’s going on in society," says Kane. "There are going to be entertainers that have a certain view. I think the rodeo, by it’s very nature, with 34,000 volunteers and all the things we have going on here, we’re big enough to support all of it.”
Return of classic country stars
RodeoHouston is still a country-centric event, and organizers worked to draw the best names in the industry. It's also one of the few events in which the same performers can play several years in a row, and 2019 saw repeats from the previous year, including Chris Stapleton, Luke Bryan, and Brad Paisley. But it was also a welcome return for big time acts that hadn't been to Houston in sometime, the most notable being George Strait's monstrous closing set.
“I’m glad we got Brooks and Dunn back, I’m glad Tim McGraw came back, and of course, George Strait is a rodeo staple,” says Kane.
The team behind the scenes and lighting and sound
RodeoHouston employs its own production team and is also served by a massive group of volunteers.
"What I was most proud of was our production team and the people that helped me produce the concert portion of the rodeo show and what they did to make our entertainment partners feel welcome," Kane says. "We can’t expect to get double-A level entertainment unless we’re able to adequately take care of them from a production and hospitality basis."
LD Systems, the Houston company responsible for the sound and lights for nearly all the memorable music events in the city (AstroWorld, Day for Night, etc.) oversaw the hundreds of lights and speakers throughout the stadium. Production-wise, each show complemented the artist on stage, and even though NRG isn't the most acoustically inclined performance space, the sound worked well throughout the venue.
“Frankly, I’m not an EDM guy, but Zedd was just a great show," Kane says. "What was nice about it was our guys from our light and sound company did a great job in terms of lighting the stadium and making it look really good.”
RodeoHouston 2019 crowds broke attendance records a remarkable three times. The first came during Cardi B's performance, which drew 75,580, more than any other artist in the history of the event (take that, Garth Brooks), sending the internet in a tizzy. That died out just over a week later with norteño group Los Tigres Del Norte beating that number by six people on Go Tejano Day. Finally, George Strait managed to pack more people into NRG for a concert-only event with 80,108, beating his own record set in 2013.
No one could have predicted Kacey Musgraves and Cardi B would take home multiple Grammy Awards in the weeks leading up to RodeoHouston. Organizers simply knocked it out of the park this year with the lineup.
“I just think there are years that you hit it," Kane says. "Our job here is to be able to put together a lineup of first-class entertainment in such a way that is financially feasible for a charity such as ours, a 501(c)(3) that has an educational mission. Sometimes you have to find artists early enough that it becomes a home run by showtime.”
Disappointing turnout for EDM
Unfortunately, the crowds didn't turn out for German-Russian producer Zedd on a Friday night, despite having the most energetic crowds of the year, a crazy laser and pyro show taking the performance to the next level. Only 54,959 paid to witness the spectacle, one of the lowest turnouts of the season. But Kane doesn't rule out booking EDM in the future, a good sign for those who like grooving away all those fried-food calories consumed at the carnival midway.
“I think it was a little bit of weather, maybe it was the start of spring break," Kane says "Unfortunately, I think Zedd, in certain circles, is a well-known commodity. But in terms of the general public, I’m not sure he has the same profile as say, the Chainsmokers had when we had them here [in 2017]. He’s not as readily played, although he’s part of many hit songs.”
Holding a three-week event at the end of the winter season is bound to run up against some cold and rainy days. A handful of shows suffered due to what will likely amount to the last cold snap of the year. Kane admitted that he wished the weather cooperated better, but ultimately it was something he could not control.
CultureMap columnist Ken Hoffman wondered if RodeoHouston should move back a few weeks when weather is more predictable, but Kane says the logistics of RodeoHouston mean it will likely stay close to its current dates for the foreseeable future.
“I would love to be able to get out of the rainy weather because this show does not do well in the rain and cold," Kane says. "People will just stay home, and I get the reason why. I would like to do that, but it becomes a really complicated affair — the dates are negotiated well in advance, and it becomes a dance between the interests in the county and other folks here at NRG that have an interest.”