If you walk through Reliant Center, hanging from the ceiling are banners listing almost every musical performer RodeoHouston has hosted since the '60s. The names reflect the hallowed history of country and fleeting fancies of the pop-music world, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson mingling with names you couldn't pick out of a police line-up to save your life, like Color Me Badd and Exile.
Each rodeo season typically includes around 20 musical performers spread out over the course of the nearly month-long event. Looking at the list of names is daunting. Most of the best have passed away, while the others probably wouldn't fit into the current pop-country mode well enough to move tickets to the greater rodeo-going public.
The typical Rascal Flatts fan would probably shrug at names like Buck Owens and Roger Miller, and continue cackling and skinning the kitty-cat they just found on the street alive.
It's not easy making a list like this, because you have to leave people like Tony Bennett out. Nothing against the man, but we don't want to see him after watching children get butted off sheep for 15 minutes, no matter how sadistic we might otherwise be. Same for Engelbert Humperdinck, Billy Gilman, Bobby Goldsboro, and Bruce Hornsby. We are sure at the time they were all ace, home-run choices, and God bless them all.
We made a concession for the Highwaymen, the group featuring Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson, though. Seeing how Willie plays at least once a year in Houston, and Waylon and Johnny are dead, we went with the Highwaymen instead of separate Willie and Waylon nights, but a full Cash night stands because it's Johnny Cash.
Freddy Fender's spot folds into the Texas Tornadoes night, because they would probably play Fender's songs anyway on the rodeo's revolving stage, and besides, our rodeo schedule would allow for almost two-hour sets, so there.
And the idea of being able to eat fried cheesecake, Oreos, and Twinkies while watching Elvis Presley is so American that everyone would be shitting Stars and Stripes for a week after the show.
The Highwaymen (1990, '92)
Dwight Yoakam (1993, 2004)
Bo Diddley (1997)
Garth Brooks (1991, '93)
The Jackson Five (1973-74)
Buck Owens (1970)
George Strait (1983-97, 2002-04, 2006-07)
Ray Charles (2003)
ZZ Top (2002-03, '07, '09)
Elvis Presley (1970, '74)
Conway Twitty (1974-75, '77, '79, '81-88, '90)
Dolly Parton (1978)
Bob Dylan (2002)
Loretta Lynn (1977, '79, '88)
Texas Tornadoes (1992)
Johnny Cash (1971, '78)
Neil Diamond (2002)
Roger Miller (1972, '91)
Merle Haggard (1973, '78, '82-84, '86, '89, 2000)
John Fogerty (2006, '08)
Indian Snake Dancers (1965)
Charley Pride (1970, '72-87, '89, '91, 2002)
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Charlie Rich (1974-75, '78)
Rod Stewart (2000)