He may not have the country cache of a George Strait or the rodeo pedigree of Brooks & Dunn, but there are few country artists who can better represent the local pride and lifetime devotion to RodeoHouston on opening night like Beaumont native Clay Walker did on Tuesday at Reliant Stadium.
Riding in on a light brown Paso Fino stallion — just like his heroes did when he was growing up and going to the rodeo — he delivered a generous two-hour set spanning his entire 18-year career.
Unlike a normal concert where Walker would most likely be pushing his latest album, She Won't Be Lonely Long, early in the set, for Houston he opted for a well-thought out 14-song setlist that moved back and forth from the past to present with equality. The crowd — not capacity, but not bad for a Tuesday night — was polite for the new works, but showed true emotion for Walker's classic chart-toppers.
Beginning with the two-step country of his second No.1 single, "Live Until I Die," from his self-titled first album, Walker hit all the emotional high notes. The baritone march of "All American" doesn't break new ground, but when you're paying homage to the American way of life it's hard not to get the crowd behind you.
Walker's evening on the portable, rotating RodeoHouston stage served as a sampler of all the different styles he has toyed with throughout his career. "Live Laugh, Love" and "Then What" pays homage to a coastal-country beach sound originated by Jimmy Buffet and turned into a career by Kenny Chesney. By contrast, the violin waltz of "Dreaming With My Eyes Wide Open," was pure old school country & western.
The finale started with his latest love-lost singles — "She Won't Be Lonely Long" and "Where Do I Go From You" — before culminating in Walker's first career No.1 country single, "What's It To You," a perfect traditional ending for an artist whose spent his career at RodeoHouston.
When it was over, Walker jumped back on his mount, shook a few hands and rode out of the stadium. His RodeoHouston ride is over, but for the rest of us it's just beginning.