Typically, concerts follow a set formula. Start up tempo, throw in a couple hits, slow it down with a ballad or two, mix in a couple tracks from the latest album and then go up tempo for a big finish. If you have a signature closer, like "40" for U2 or "Yellow Ledbetter" for Pearl Jam, so much the better.
Following the template is an almost surefire formula for success. The Zac Brown Band has followed it well, playing the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo four years in a row and earning the honor of closing the event. The crowd sang along and danced in their seats to familiar favorites like "Toes," and couple snuggled during ballads like "Free" and "Annie." Just when it seemed like a cover of the Marshall Tucker Band classic "Can't You See" was going to be a highlight, a surprise guest lifted a good concert to a great one.
Yet, even bull riding and the calf scramble were topped by an emotional moment that everyone who attended will remember for years to come.
Up to that point, the standing room only crowd of 75,012 had already had a memorable evening, thanks to the conclusion of the Rodeo's signature Super Series that paid out $25,000 cash prizes to top performers in five events. Sound was surprisingly good for a Rodeo show, with the band's vocal harmonies coming through loud and clear.
Yet, even bull riding and the calf scramble were topped by an emotional moment that everyone who attended will remember for years to come. Late in the set, as the band performed fan favorite "Chicken Fried" and Brown sang the lyric, "I thank God for my life / And for the Stars and Stripes / May freedom forever fly / Let it ring," a true American hero walked across the stage.
Marcus Luttrell, the retired Navy SEAL whose harrowing story is chronicled in the book and movie Lone Survivor, made a guest appearance on stage. Luttrell didn't say anything as the crowd rose to its feet in a thunderous, prolonged ovation. He didn't have to.
Even though HLSR COO Leroy Shafer had already introduced Luttrell and presented him with an award (also to a standing ovation) earlier in the evening, the timing of the second appearance made it even more special than the first.
When "Chicken Fried" ended, a steady stream of attendees headed for the exits. Sure, those people missed the high-energy closer of Led Zepplin hit "Kashmir" that merged into the band's signature cover of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," but it hardly mattered.
The show's emotional climax had already come and gone with Luttrell's appearance and the crowd's emotional salute. What a fitting way to conclude the 21-day celebration of all things Texan.
As She's Walking Away
Day for the Dead
Can't You See
Keep Me In Mind
Goodbye In Her Eyes
Kashmir —The Devil Went Down to Georgia