It may not have the star-studded impact of the last two years, but RodeoHouston is back with a diverse lineup that still plays to the Houston tent pole event's strengths: big-name country artists.
Odds pointed to the difficulty of following up two sold-out performances by Garth Brooks, the top-selling country artist of all time, in 2018, followed by an RodeoHouston and NRG Stadium attendance record shattering show by the King of Country (and second highest all-time selling country artist), George Strait, in 2019. Regardless, there's a lot to like about the 2020 edition, especially if you were a fan of previous rosters.
A second leak of the lineup in the last two years before the announcement took some of the anticipation out to the proceedings at a special VIP event at NRG Stadium's Director's Club, overlooking the home field of the Texans. But there was a sense of elation in the crowd when Reid Ryan of the Houston Astros announced the performers in front of a killer smorgasbord of rodeo-inspired food, especially among the cowboy hat and boot wearing attendees.
This year's edition runs a little later this year, kicking off on Tuesday, March 3, with Texas country act Midland and closing with still huge solo country star Luke Bryan on March 22. Big names making their first appearance this year are pop queen and The Voice judge Gwen Stefani (March 17), girlfriend to five-time RodeoHouston performer Blake Shelton; R&B pop artist Khalid (March 18), and fast-rising, talented country voice Maren Morris (March 7), set to fill the role that Kacey Musgraves played in 2019.
"When we began to do the deal, I was hoping for a little pillow talk there [from Blake Shelton], to say, ‘Honey, it’s okay, go ahead and do it," Jason Kane, managing director of entertainment for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, joked about the Stefani booking.
Country acts include many familiar faces, many of them past performers. Local legend Willie Nelson will star for Armed Forces Appreciation Day on March 4, making his 11th appearance on the star-shaped stage. Chris Young makes his sixth appearance on March 9. Kane Brown parlayed his well received 2019 set into his second, back-to-back appearance on March 11.
Cody Johnson will play his fourth RodeoHouston in a row on March 12. Dierks Bentley returns for his seventh appearance on March 15, followed by Keith Urban for the eighth time on March 16. Chris Stapleton is set for March 19, his fourth year in a row. The one-two shot of Brad Paisley (12th slot, seventh year in a row) and Bryan (ninth appearance in a row) closes out the season on March 21 and 22, respectively. Hot C&W star Jon Pardi makes his RodeoHouston debut on March 14.
Pop is represented by 23-year-old Becky G on March 5. Go Tejano Day, one of the biggest draws of every RodeoHouston, will feature Ramon Ayala on Sunday, March 8. New to RodeoHouston is the bold booking of chart topping K-Pop act NCT 127, a band almost anyone over the age of 21 has never heard of before, but one that will definitely attract a crowd of screaming preteens and teenagers on March 10, made possible by Spring Break for most local school districts falling that week.
“It’s my job to look over the horizon and see what’s going on out there and you can’t deny that there is a trend," Kane, known for his booking smarts, told CultureMap. "There’s a wave that’s hit these shores. Of course, the leading artist is BTS, but we feel great about NCT 127 — they are starting to breakout. They just did the Today show, they did the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and I feel great about that.”
Three performers, one hip-hop/R&B, another hip-hop/pop, and an EDM artist, weren't announced at the event. Rather, they will be announced on February 4 in special, smaller events at local schools, which could make for some big clues as to who they'll be. Interestingly, they will all perform on a Friday night. Kane promised some big surprises - addressing the noticeable lack of major headliners.
“Obviously, the last couple of years, we had Garth, we had George Strait," Kane said. "There’s only so many of them. And once you’ve had them, they don’t always come back around every year. I think when you see the full line-up in its complete form, you’ll see where our star power is.”
Once again, Kane is banking on the seemingly left-field bookings to drawing in new fans to NRG Stadium and the rodeo grounds.
“My one goal would be to fill the stadium for something different like our K-Pop offering and bring people to the rodeo that have never been here before," he said. "I think we did some of that last year for Cardi B, and I think we have a great chance of doing that again with this year’s lineup.”
Tickets go on sale Thursday, January 16 at 10 am at rodeohouston.com. Friday performances will go on sale February 6 at 10 am. The online waiting room will open at 9:30 am; customers in the waiting room will be randomly selected to enter the store to purchase tickets at 10 am, according to RodeoHouston.