Just a few hours before hitting the stage for his 15th show at RodeoHouston on Saturday, March 18, Brad Paisley was inducted into the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s Star Trail of Fame.
The guitar picker joined the likes of Brooks & Dunn, Reba, Charley Pride, Elvis Presley, Gene Autry (the first performer ever), Roy Rogers, Alan Jackson, George Strait, and Selena.
Unless you are a certified rodeo rat like myself and have spent years stalking the halls of the NRG Center assignments, you’ve likely never seen this wall of gold plaques, located on the second floor of NRG Center outside HLSR’s offices.
Paisley’s star is the tenth on the wall, hanging next to Selena. On Saturday, he spoke briefly at an unveiling ceremony hosted by HLSR organizers.
“There’s nothing like this in the world,” Paisley told the assembled Houston press and rodeo brass on Saturday afternoon. “You guys realize that.”
It’s an honor reserved for the performers who’ve made a pronounced mark on the event. For some, like Reba and Strait, it’s about longevity and universal draw. While Selena (1993, 1994, 1995) and Elvis Presley (1970, 1974) only appeared at the rodeo a handful of times, their appearances have grown into sacred cultural milestones for two distinct demographics.
In Houston, you can age a native by who they first saw at the rodeo, like cowboy cosplay carbon dating. It doesn’t take long into a casual conversation about the rodeo without someone bragging about who they first saw.
Not unlike vegans, it won’t take long for someone to edify you with tales of seeing Elvis’ name on the Dome’s exploding scoreboard, or seeing Selena’s famous outfits in living color on Diamond Vision from the cheap seats. For me, it was being four years old and Strait showing off some of his ocean front property in 1987.
Paisley’s rodeo stops have always been breathers, nights to stretch and enjoy the scenery, like an industry night for the rodeo season. He’s performed at every RodeoHouston held since 2014, and without COVID changing the world’s plans, Saturday night’s matinee would have been his 17th show.
I’ve never heard anyone say an unkind word about a Paisley variety show stop. The rodeo’s starred stage, in whatever iteration, feels like home to him. The Grand Ole Opry and Guitar Hall of Fame member could be the house performer at an all-year rodeo theme park and no one would bat an eye.
He’s grown into an ambassador for a gentler, comical side of modern country music that’s always needed. Running counter to the stuffy modern hat acts, the sterner indie-toned traditionalists, and the rap-liters. Paisley’s the dude playing the hits, showing off his picking fingers, and having a beer with everyone in the room. No one else on this year’s rodeo lineup besides Paisley has recorded a song with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, either.
On Saturday night, Paisley brought the warmth from his plaque unveiling onto the stage in front of a sold out matinee crowd. “River Bank” kicked things off with Paisley’s slashing riverbilly guitar out front.
It only took three songs for Paisley to make his first tour onto the dirt for “Perfect Storm”, which morphed into a cover of “The Love Boat” TV theme song as Paisley took a victory lap on the west side of the stadium. Of course, “Water” was the next song.
Music videos have always been Paisley’s multimedia creative jam and he made sure to sprinkle some gems from his videography into the set and screens. “Waitin’ On a Woman” came with the requisite posthumous cameo from Andy Griffith from the music video. For “Celebrity,” Paisley’s own mascot from the industry-skewering viral video made a minor cameo in the chute seats.
For a foggy mountain jam, Paisley and his band members with instruments that can go mobile joined him on the dirt for a road trip.
“You’re such a beautiful mix of Budweiser, cow shit, and Brut Cologne,” Paisley told the crowd as “I’m Still A Guy” worked its way into the set list.
Paisley stole a fan’s phone for a spell and began to play on Aurora Fernandez Sordelli’s Instagram account, perusing her socials and critiquing her profile. It completely made sense for United States Congressman Dan Crenshaw to sit in on “American Saturday Night,” playing tambourine more than slightly off beat.
“The Brad Paisley Variety Hour has been a certified hit for 15 rodeo seasons running and hopefully, we’re only at the beginning of its run.
The Literal Love Boat Theme
Waitin’ On a Woman
Last Time For Everything
I’m Still A Guy
This is Country Music
American Saturday Night (with Dan Crenshaw on tambourine)