For nearly all of the rodeo concerts I’ve seen this season for CultureMap, I’ve stuck my AirPods into my ears when I got out of my truck and listened to the artist for that night as I did my nightly lap around NRG Park heading into the concert. It functions as a way to drown out the crowd noise, soundtrack my evening, and get into creative writing mode. It’s like breathing in the air on a new alien planet.
Some nights, like New Kids On the Block, it blended perfectly with oodles of elderly millennials in vintage ‘80s garb double-fisting wine cups in the concourses. Chris Stapleton’s western bedroom noir made me play gentle air guitar as I took the escalator up the side of the stadium with thousands of sweaty couples. The merrily morose indie country of the Turnpike Troubadours paired nicely with the party bus line oozing pre-gamers and the Parker McCollum and Margo Price lookalikes.
On Sunday March 19, the season closed out with lovable horndog Luke Bryan, which made for a slightly swaggery walk-in from the purple lot for me. “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” makes this painfully urban cowboy shake it in his pretty little Tecovas, no lie.
“Kick the Dust Up” almost made me buy a new John Deere Gator XUV off-road cart for running errands around Montrose. “Knockin’ Boots” made for an awkward elevator ride up the seven floors of NRG Stadium, listening to Thomas Luther Bryan sing “Boys like me need the girls like you to kiss me” alone with an NRG attendant.
Closing the RodeoHouston season with a sold-out late matinee, Bryan jumped out of the Ford transport in full “Coolest Drunk Dad at the PTA Fundraiser Karaoke Jam” mode, setting things off with “I Don’t Want This Night To End” from 2011’s Tailgates and Tanlines. Our Tailgate Elvis – is it too late to copyright that? – settled into a flirty crowd-pleasing hits set, with jeans as tight as yoga pants.
This was Bryan’s 10th RodeoHouston show, which he credited with helping him “Buy Dirt” in more than a few states in the union. While you weren’t looking he became one of the busiest country acts of the past two decades, currently presiding as a Supreme Pop Judge on ABC’s American Idol with Justice Katy Petty and Chief Justice Lionel Richie.
In just a few days, Bryan will continue his ongoing residency at Resorts World Theatre in Las Vegas, which could be called Nashville West for the proliferation of country stars posting up for weeks at a time for music-hungry revelers. Heck, Houston is arguably the country music capital of the world during rodeo season.
Bryan’s backing band seemed seamlessly seasoned from residency shows, aiming for the biggest riff, the biggest synth line, and the biggest chorus.
Tailgate Elvis is everywhere — and 74,779 rodeo fans can’t be wrong.
In closing, it seems that this real was the first “normal” RodeoHouston since COVID, with most of 2020 and the totality of 2021 falling victim to the virus. Last year still felt shaky and unsure, with most of the city still getting used to walking in large crowds and eating corn dogs again in public with dignity. It was Remedial RodeoHouston. The 2023 season was the true return of the rodeo, pre-pandemic and ready to party, with fans eager to sell out NRG Stadium for their favorite artists, eat fantastically insane food, and drink all the alcohol.
Note: Houston, we don’t how to walk in public. We stop abruptly, walk against the human current, make erratic lane changes, and just generally walk just like we drive. It’s truly one of our best civic traditions and I can’t wait to do it all again with you at Minute Maid Park in a few weeks.
I Don’t Want This Night To End
Kick The Dust Up
Rain Is a Good Thing
What Makes You Country
Crash My Party
Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset
Play It Again
That’s My Kinda Night
Country Girl (Shake It For Me)