The curtains are drawn, but the show will return. After a disappointing and heartbreaking end to RodeoHouston 2020, event organizers are already planning a triumphant return in 2021.
RodeoHouston is still dealing with the effects of closing shop after hosting only eight of 20 shows for the mammoth charitable event that usually runs three weeks and draws well over 2.5 million people to NRG Stadium. But there is hope for next year — the team behind the dust and dirt, cowboy, and music spectacle is already working on plans to bring it back better than ever.
The situation turned serious on March 11 when Judge Lina Hidalgo and Mayor Sylvester Turner announced an emergency health declaration, effectively shutting down the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo along with its entertainment division, RodeoHouston.
“I have to say that all of the folks that we work with, our entire production team on the concert side did an extraordinarily good job under very difficult circumstances,” Jason Kane, manager of entertainment and concert production, tells CultureMap.
“We got the news literally before the press conference. You have to work through the initial shock and then get to closing up business in an orderly fashion.”
Even though RodeoHouston soldiered on after Austin officials shuttered the international multimedia event South By Southwest on March 6, it seemed inevitable the city’s biggest annual music event would follow suit. Despite enacting a widespread health and safety campaign throughout the fairgrounds and NRG Stadium, the event couldn’t ignore the warning signs ahead, namely a shelter-in-place order that forced millions of Houstonians to stay home.
“Internally, people said, ‘Why now?’ And by Tuesday of our second week, the wave was forming,” Kane notes. “By Wednesday, the wave had hit the beach. By Thursday, the tsunami had come in. If it wasn’t Wednesday, it would have been Thursday. There’s no way for me to project what could have happened other than what did happen.”
Before the show closed down hours ahead of country star Kane Brown taking the star-shaped stage, the effects of people’s concerns had already been felt. For instance, Chance the Rapper only managed to draw short of 62,000 for a Friday night show, far from capacity for a show that drew a lot of buzz.
The eight shows that did take place produced high-end entertainment. Openers Midland brought charismatic honky-tonk charm and Willie Nelson impressed a 70,000-plus crowd with decades of hits. Chance the Rapper took his crowd to church. Country ingenue Maren Morris admirably performed nine-months pregnant, giving birth to a son soon after her appearance.
“I think that we had a lot of great shows and the strength of the lineup would have become more apparent as we moved through,” Kane says. “But even the eight shows that we were able to get in had some great results when you look at it in the face of this challenge that was coming at us.”
The good news is Kane and his team are already working on next year’s event. Hometown Grammy award winner, Lizzo, who easily had the most anticipated show this year, selling out in less than 30 minutes, is on Kane’s wishlist for the 2021 edition.
“We were disappointed too,” Kane says about Lizzo’s cancelled performance. “All of us were looking forward to it. The layout of the show was going to be a spectacular presentation. I think we can safely say that we’re going to do everything we can to make sure Lizzo gets to play her hometown.”
Another goal, Kane adds, is to work on bringing back the other artists that weren’t able to perform this year. He is unable to confirm anyone for the next edition as it's still too early in the process, but Kane makes it clear that the 2021 season will be one to remember, dedicated to all those who supported RodeoHouston as they worked through the unprecedented task of closing down early for the first time in its storied, 89-year history.
“My plan is to have a 2021 lineup that is bigger, better, and gives everybody in our audience in the Houston metro a reason to come out and celebrate,” Kane says. “I think Houston will deserve it, all the rodeo fans deserve it, and I think they’ll all be looking for a real celebration in 2021.”
Outside the performances, the disappointment, and adverse economic impact, the one thing that stands out in 2020 for Kane was the unbelievable support he received from the community and everyone behind the scenes when faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Many season ticket holders either rolled their passes over to next year or donated the funds back to the rodeo.
“The unbelievable effort that has been made from the moment we were asked to pull the plug, by everyone involved on this team, volunteers and staff, and all the folks who support us has been absolutely tremendous,” says Kane. “It’s a real statement on the organization but it’s a bigger statement on the heart and mind of this community.”