This Sunday night at the stroke of 11:59 p.m., the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo will announce its 2014 lineup, this year's model of arguably the biggest three-week assortment of top-drawer entertainer talent anywhere in the nation -- or even the world. Each year it strives to engage its increasingly diverse and youthful audience, recently booking acts like Bruno Mars, Pitbull, and the Black Eyed Peas, but the lineup (which runs March 4-23 this year) also stays remarkably consistent from year to year.
Regardless of the actual names, we already know we'll be getting a few old standbys like Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley, a young stud a la Brantley Gilbert last year, an older star not quite ready to be put out to pasture (the "Alan Jackson" slot), one teen-pop ingenue and/or boy band, one crazy-popular norteno and banda group apiece on Go Tejano Day, and one or two acts that may make many people say, "Really? Them?" But it must be doing something right.
Entering its 83rd year, the rodeo is more popular than ever. Last year it set new records for both overall paid attendance and RodeoHouston attendance (the rodeo/concert portion) with approximately 2.5 and 1.3 million people, respectively. Demonstrating how easily it has transitioned into the social-media age, the rodeo was also Facebook's 10th most checked-in location last year, making a list that also includes Disneyland, Times Square and Fenway Park.
Because Rocks Off enjoys playing amateur talent buyer, we thought we'd give predicting Sunday's announcement a try, using only the rodeo's previously announced genre calendar -- this year it's 14 country acts, one pop, one R&B/pop, one pop-rock, one classic rock, one norteno/banda and one R&B (whew) -- pollstar.com to check artist availability, and our own intuition. Surely there are more bizarre hobbies out there than that, but we also don't spend a lot of time on the Internet outside work.
Popularity: Well... he is the reigning Celebrity All-Star Apprentice champion. Previous Rodeo Appearances: 1997-98, 2009, 2011 Availability: Wide open. Guess: Maybe as a sentimental favorite for Armed Forces Day.
Popularity: Very good. Still all over radio and the charts -- album Night Train is No. 6 in its 62nd week on the charts, and single "When She Says Baby" is No. 8. Previous Rodeo Appearances: 2010-2013 Availability: A couple of mid-March dates in Alabama are the only conflicts. Guess: Would be his fifth year in a row, but still one of the top names out there.
Popularity: Are you kidding? Bryan is Mr. Country in 2014. Previous Rodeo Appearances: 2012-13 Availability: On tour through early March... ending with dates in Memphis and Bossier City, La. And he's playing the I Heart Radio Festival in Austin March 29. Guess: Feels like a lock.
Popularity: Medium. Scored some points as a neo-outlaw but has struggled to produce anything as big as 2012's "Springsteen." Previous Rodeo Appearances: -- Availability: In Europe the first ten days of the rodeo, but also heading to the I Heart festival. Will have a brand-new album, The Outsiders, out next month. Guess: 30 percent chance. The rodeo can't book Kid Rock every year, I guess.
Popularity: High. Her crossover to official country artist seemed to go over pretty well with last year's album Easy, and Crow still has a lot of goodwill among the pop-rock crowd. Previous Rodeo Appearances: 2007 Availability: Dates in Nashville and Atlanta March 21 and 22, but she's free besides that. Guess: Call it a hunch, but I think it might happen.
ELI YOUNG BAND
Popularity: Very high. The one act to completely eclipse the Texas Country orbit and become full-fledged country stars, especially after recent No. 1 "Drunk Last Night." Previous Rodeo Appearances: 2010, 2012 Availability: Appearing at Rodeo Austin on March 10 but heading Down Under for some shows with Toby Keith on March 14. Guess: Seems like a sure shot if not for that Australian jag. Maybe one of the first few nights.
Popularity: Just imagine the deafening female screams when Farr plays "Redneck Crazy." Previous Rodeo Appearances: -- Availability: Touring with Jason Aldean right before the rodeo. Could be. Guess: The rodeo brings in a couple of breakout stars every year, so why not?
List continues on the next page.
FLORIDA GEORGIA LINE
Popularity: Huge. The epitome of "bro-country," they have crossed over into every conceivable demographic. Previous Rodeo Appearances: -- Availability: Scattered March dates in the South, including that pesky I Heart festival in Austin. Guess: Seem like a lock to make their RodeoHouston debut.
Popularity: Peaking. Last year's Yours Truly put her in the same conversation as Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez, also rodeo veterans as teen-pop starlets with TV backgrounds. Previous Rodeo Appearances: -- Availability: Nothing booked. Guess: Just a pure, blind guess after I found out that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis will be in Australia and Asia the whole time.
LITTLE BIG TOWN
Popularity: Decent. On the down cycle after 2012's Tornado album, but it was the biggest hit of their career. Previous Rodeo Appearances: -- Availability: Have all of March open after appearing at the Florida Strawberry Festival March 1 in Plant City. Guess: Hope so. It's hard to underestimate how much I love "Pontoon."
Popularity: Decent. New album Drinks After Work (his 17th non-Christmas album!) hasn't produced a big hit, but his prodigious catalog can still sell plenty of seats. Previous Rodeo Appearances: 1995-96, 2003, 2006-2010, 2013 Availability: Also heading to Australia in mid-March, but free before that. Guess: Been there so many times it's tough to really bet against it.
Popularity: Not bad. Latest album Two Lanes of Freedom has been pretty successful, especially coming two decades into his career. Has it really been 20 years since "Indian Outlaw"? Previous Rodeo Appearances: 1996-97, 2003, 2008, 2010-2011, 2013 Availability: Scattered Vegas shows throughout March, but plenty of open dates. Guess: I'd take him over Blake Shelton for "Truck Yeah" alone.
Popularity: Good. Loads of critical acclaim and better-than-average sales for her debut Same Trailer, Different Park, which is still in Billboard's Country Top 10 after 42 weeks. Previous Rodeo Appearances: -- Availability: Opening Lady Antebellum's spring tour for most of March. Damn. Guess: Maybe she could fly in on an open date, but I'd take Miranda Lambert again too.
Popularity: Adored in the R&B world; makes perfect sense given past Black Heritage Day bookings like Alicia Keys, John Legend and Mary J. Blige. Previous Rodeo Appearances: -- Availability: Nothing on the calendar. Guess: Out of the blue for sure, but would certainly be cool.
Popularity: Um. "Keep On Lovin' You," "Take It On the Run," "Time For Me to Fly," etc.? Don't fight that feeling. Previous Rodeo Appearances: 2002 Availability: One lonely night in Salina, Kansas on March 14 is all. Guess: Wishful thinking based purely on last year's Styx booking. Also, "Ridin' the Storm Out" slays live.
ZAC BROWN BAND
Popularity: High. Brand-new EP The Grohl Sessions feels more like a bid for credibility than big sales, but ZBB has proven its appeal to rock, country, and jam-band fans alike. Previous Rodeo Appearances: 2011-2013 Availability: Have all the rodeo dates open except March 15, when they're playing the "Country to Country" festival at London's O2 Arena. Guess: 50-50. Their rodeo popularity is a given at this point, but four years in a row still feels like a stretch.
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS