Country is Back: Five RodeoHouston shows you shouldn't miss
In retrospect, it seems as obvious as bull riding and calf scrambles. What's a rodeo without country music?
The answer: Not always a rodeo.
At least not always the quality rodeo atmosphere that RodeoHouston organizers aspire to each year.
For 2010, RodeoHouston offers a little something for every music lover over the next 20 days. But, make no mistake, just as the barbecue cookoff depends on brisket and chicken, RodeoHouston once again prides itself on bringing Nashville's finest talent to Reliant Stadium.
This year's line-up looks like the winner's list after the most recent Country Music Association Awards, along with a few invited guests from the hip-hop, pop and Tejano world to add a splash of sass on the red carpet.
It's a return to the tradition RodeoHouston established over 60 years ago when The Singing Cowboy, Gene Autry, came each year at the height of his fame to sing for rodeo crowds.
Today the Music Row-loaded line-up seems obvious, but just a little over 10 years ago, RodeoHouston organizers couldn't have been more opposite in their thinking.
Breaking with tradition with an aggressive push to reaching younger and more diverse audiences, the RodeoHouston line-up drifted away from popular country and started booking bands one would never expect at a rodeo. In 2001, they celebrated the '80s with performances by Def Leppard and Duran Duran. The following year they surprised everyone with one of the most memorable performances in rodeo history by folk rock icon Bob Dylan. And few were prepared for the adult themes alluded to by rapper L.L. Cool J in 2003.
(This year, there is not one bonafide rock n' roll artist playing at the rodeo, which is all that needs to be said about past forays into that genre.)
In retrospect, it was perhaps that L.L. Cool J show that turned the tide on what the future of RodeoHouston would be.
First and foremost, Leroy Shafer, vice-president and COO of RodeoHouston, has always taken pride in providing an atmosphere that the whole family could enjoy. I will never forget his purse-lipped frustration following L.L. Cool J's gyrations. I don't remember his exact words that evening, but I do know the message he sternly conveyed was, "This is not what RodeoHouston is all about."
Seven years later RodeoHouston is back to doing what it does best: Providing family entertainment with the help of the finest touring musical acts around. The fact that those acts happen to be from Nashville is partly to do with a more recent "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," stance from the rodeo producers, and partly because country is drawing as much, if not more audience than rock these days.
Beachcombin' cowboy Kenny Chesney hits the top of the charts with just about every album he releases. Newcomers Lady Antebellum's current album, "Need You Now," debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 album charts in early February, and Brooks & Dunn are about to make history with a final tour.
With that in mind, here are five country shows at the 2010 RodeoHouston that shouldn't be missed.
Alan Jackson, tonight: If you can't have George Strait, Willie Nelson or some other tall Texan on the opening night of RodeoHouston, you can't do much better than Alan Jackson. He has 26 No. 1 country singles, including "Don't Rock the Jukebox," "Chattahoochee," and the more recent "Country Boy," and after this year (when Brooks & Dunn retire) he will be the new king of RodeoHouston with performances at every rodeo since 1992, except one (2003).
Kenny Chesney, Thursday: Those who love their cowboy music with a little steel guitar and a margarita will love Kenny's brand of country. The last decade has seen Chesney mix the traditional George Strait sound with the laid-back groove of Jimmy Buffet for a string of tanned-and-toned hits like "When the Sun Does Down," and "Summertime." Houstonians must be living right, because, for the first time in a decade, Chesney isn't really even touring this year. RodeoHouston is one of only a handful of special dates he has planned for 2010.
Lady Antebellum, March 15: With two smoking country singles, "Need You Now" and "American Honey," an album that just hit No. 1 and has sold more than 500,000 copies and three Grammy awards won in just over a year... Lady Antebellum is the hottest new act in country. This is a chance to see radio's biggest stars just as they are hitting supernova.
Eli Young Band, March 19: See all that stuff I just wrote about Lady Antebellum? The Eli Young Band could very well be sitting in that country catbird seat this time next year. They are a bit more groovy and rough around the edges, but the pride of Denton, Texas is making their mark with a new album, "Jet Black & Jealous." Just in case they don't make it back next year when the accolades and chart-topping hits start rolling in, see them now so you can impress your friends later.
Brooks & Dunn, March 20: This is the last rodeo for Brooks & Dunn. Seriously. After 19 years, 11 studio albums and a collection of country hits (50) that make Elvis Presley and Garth Brooks nervous, Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn are going their separate ways. It's possible one, or both, might be back at RodeoHouston as solo artists in coming years, but the days of harmonizing together on "Neon Moon" and "My Maria" are coming to an end. After performing at every RodeoHouston since 1992, their last round-up should be bittersweet.