This Monday at 12:05 a.m., the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo will announce its 2015 lineup, which it is rolling out alongside a switch to hopefully smoother ticketing system, axs.com. In just a couple of months' time, this spark becomes the roaring bonfire of civic pride that is this 20-day event (March 3-22), the largest of its kind in the world.
As such, the lineup is traditionally packed with some of the top country, pop and R&B names to be had, but every year those charged with its creation manage to toss in a curveball or two. So who might those be this year?
GARTH BROOKS The show a lot of people (in the Houston media especially) have been salivating for. Brooks has mostly gone the consecutive-arena-show route since his recent return to touring, and hasn't played in Houston since doing the same thing at Compaq Center circa 1997. True, Garth doesn't really need the rodeo to fill NRG Stadium, but you've got to figure he'll play here eventually. If he wants to make a big splash -- which he loves more than just about anything -- a rodeo surprise would be the perfect way to do it.
ERIC CHURCH With no rock at the rodeo this year, but plenty of it on Church's hit album The Outsiders, his rodeo debut would draw out plenty of the rowdy crowd as well as the more subdued folks just there to see "Springsteen." Besides, anybody is better than Blake Shelton at this point.
ROGER CREAGER Kevin Fowler's hootin' and hollerin' at last year's BBQ cookoff notwithstanding, it's been a while since the rodeo has gone to the Texas country stables for a main-stage act. But Creager has paid his dues; is rolling after another regional-hit album, last year's Road Show; and has just the right touch of Kenny Chesney/Jimmy Buffett sand between his toes to make him a Spring Break dark horse.
KID ROCK The American Badass, now a two-time rodeo entertainer (though not since 2012), would go over like gangbusters whether on Armed Forces Appreciation Night or one of the Spring Break Stampede concerts. His latest album, First Kiss, is due late next month, and with titles like "Johnny Cash," "Ain't Enough Whiskey," and "Drinking Beer With Dad," so he's obviously going on one of the "country" nights this year.
LITTLE BIG TOWN Divine four-piece harmonizers Little Big Town followed up 2012's smash LP Tornado with Pain Killer, one of the best-reviewed country albums this decade and iTunes' Top Country Album of 2014, beloved by fans and praised by critics for its irresistible hooks and sun-splashed tunes like Top 5 single "Day Drinking." LBT is already playing San Antonio's rodeo next month, and deserves an upgrade to the granddaddy of 'em all four hours down I-10.
MADDIE & TAE What better way for the rodeo to send a message that it's open all types of country music than booking the teen duo behind adorbs bro antidote "Girl In a Country Song," which capped its slow climb to No. 1 last month? They have a fresh single at radio, "Fly," the biggest label in Nashville behind them, and a hometown connection -- Maddie Marlow hails from Sugar Land.
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BRUNO MARS & MARK RONSON Mars already has one of the Top 10 best-attended rodeo concerts, from his lights-out performance in March 2013, and now he has the nation's No. 1 single with Mark Ronson collaboration "Uptown Funk!" The track is taken from UK megaproducer Ronson's upcoming album Uptown Special, and a hypothetical rodeo set could see him trotting out a few of the album's guests -- Mystikal? Tame Impala's Kevin Wyatt? -- or just set Mars up for all sorts of onstage challenges. A Stevie Wonder medley? Maybe a little Bob Marley? Amy Winehouse's "Rehab"? What kind of rodeo set would that turn out to be?
JARROD NIEMAN The embodiment of bro-country, ex-songwriter-for-hire Niemann -- who broke out in 2010 with side-splitting album title Judge Jarrod & the Hung Jury -- is arguably the male country singer who saw his stock rise the most in 2014 thanks to his album High Noon and hit single "Drink to That All Night." If Jason Aldean can't make it this year, Niemann ain't too big a step down.
SAM SMITH This would be a real coup -- and it's not unthinkable. Smith may be young, but the angelic-voiced British soul singer has been around long enough to easily be on the rodeo's radar, and his popularity has skyrocketed even since his canceled House of Blues date this past October. You might say he even owes Houston one.
TLC RIP Left Eye, but T-Boz, Chili and now Lil Mama have been on the reunion tip since the surprise smash October 2013 VH1 biopic almost "broke" Twitter. After a few awards shows and scattered overseas tour dates, the girls are promising a new album this year but no full-fledged U.S. swing; a surprise rodeo spot would play the nostalgia card for thirtysomethings while being, well, crazysexycool for teens.
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