The best person to open the 2018 RodeoHouston season was also the best one to close it out.
The biggest country artist ever, Garth Brooks, set an all-time attendance record March 18 with 75,577 paid to see his second show. For the fans that scored one of the hardest tickets in town to find, they got a 14-song barnburner that met the energy of the opening show and then some, featuring the biggest ovations and loudest crowds of the last three weeks.
One of the biggest questions coming into the early-evening performance was how different would the setlist be from the first show? Many of the same people who had saw him way back on February 22 would be there, so while an exact same setlist would still be welcomed by a demographic that simply love the Oklahoma-based star, it would have been a little bit of a downer if Brooks didn’t bring at least a few new songs to enjoy.
For half the set, it looked like it might be that way. Not that anyone was complaining. A rousing “Rodeo” started things off, the song feeling like it was written solely for the purpose of opening a RodeoHouston set. “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House,” showcased the country rock that Brooks ushered into the mainstream in the early '90s. “The River,” a powerhouse ballad, had NRG awash in lights from everyone’s cell phones.
“Two Pina Coladas” turned the stadium into Brooks’ very own version of Margaritaville, followed by a fantastic “That Summer,” every one of his 10 backing band members being heard through the hundreds of speakers hung from the stadium ceiling.
“How many times does lightning strike twice in the same place?” Brooks asked, before launching into the country version of “November Rain,” replete with thunderous sound effects and rainstorm visuals.
Then, Brooks had a few surprises up his sleeve. A blazing pure honky tonk of “Ain’t Going Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)” saw him run from one side of the stadium to the other to serenade fans from the seat railings. That preceded a special guest appearance by none other than Brooks’ wife, Trisha Yearwood, a huge country star in her own right.
Yearwood received a huge roar of approval as she took to the Stars Over Texas stage before the king and queen of modern country broke into sweetly sung, 1997 No. 2 country hit, husband/wife duet, “In Another’s Eyes.” Brooks then stepped back and let his partner take the spotlight for her No. 1 country hit, “She’s in Love with the Boy,” her pipes just as good as ever. If anyone is at the top of the list for performers to book in 2019, it’s Yearwood.
After she made her way off stage into a waiting pick-up truck, Brooks covered Texas music legend George Strait for the second show in a row, this time playing a near-note perfect rendition of “Amarillo by Morning,” eliciting the biggest singalong of the night. Brooks might be the people’s champ when it comes to country music, but it was pretty clear that Strait was still Texas’ favorite son.
Brooks saved his biggest hits, “Friends In Low Places,” and “The Dance,” for last, the former getting everyone out of their seats and the both of them being belted out by the 75,000-plus in the stands.
Even if most of the setlist stayed the same, there was enough added to the show, not to mention the tremendous energy from the performers and crowd, there was little to dislike. It was like having to eat your favorite dessert two nights in a row with a few ingredients switched up but still with one delicious result.
Near the end of the performance, Brooks mentioned that RodeoHouston was over 85 years old — 86 years to be exact — and forecasted a future return date for him and his band.
“I’m a lot older than the last time I was at RodeoHouston,” he said. “I made a handshake deal with board ... If I could still walk, I would love to come back and do the 100th anniversary.”
Let’s hope it doesn’t take that long to get him back.
Garth Brooks Setlist
“Two of a Kind, Workin’ On A Full House”
“Two Pina Coladas”
“The Thunder Rolls”
“Ain’t Going Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)”
“In Another’s Eyes” (Trisha Yearwood/Garth Brooks duet)
“She’s in Love with the Boy” (Trisha Yearwood solo song)
“Amarillo By Morning” (George Strait cover)
“Callin’ Baton Rouge”
“Ask Me How I Know”
“Friends in Low Places”