In the Middle of One of RodeoHouston's Biggest Weekends, Brad Paisley Didn't Get Too Serious

You've got to keep your eye on Brad Paisley; he's a sly one.
Photo courtesy of Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo
You've got to keep your eye on Brad Paisley; he's a sly one.
Brad Paisley
NRG Stadium
March 17, 2K18

Think about all the technology needed to pull off a RodeoHouston performance. From the hundreds of lights around the stadium to the multiple cameras set up at different distances to the massive sound system, it’s a complex operation requiring a tremendous amount of money and a small army of talented people to run it all. And with all that in place and 18 nights of practice, the technical team at NRG Stadium still had a devil of a time trying to keep up with Brad Paisley.

There was never any doubt that Brad Paisley was going to use all the new rodeo stage to his advantage, but he was only halfway through the first song of the night—after taking the stage to the theme from Stranger Things—before he was out on one of the star points singing and soloing on his guitar. Center stage might as well not have been there for the amount of time he spent at it; Paisley is most at home getting close to the fans, which meant an ample amount of time spent with his boots in the dirt covering the floor of the stadium.

Saturday night was not about putting on a technically masterful performance—although his solos were all quite good—or finding catharsis through live music; at times it felt less like a concert and more like Paisley was trying to give as many people as he could an experience they’d never forget. He brought members of the armed forces out to celebrate their service; he handed out plenty of guitar picks to younger fans; he posed for selfies and videos; he even took one fan’s phone and went through her Amazon purchases to see if there was anything funny.

In the past, Paisley has put on blistering performances where he played like a man possessed. He’s brought out country legends to share the stage and end of show pickup exit with him. In the last 10 years, he’s only missed RodeoHouston once, and as someone who has seen him once a year for the last five years, he hasn’t put on a show that was less than great. He’s been one of the constants of RodeoHouston, and if he wants to spend a year now and then having a good time and entertaining himself while entertaining everyone else, I’d say he’s earned that. If everyone’s going to be talking about Garth and Chris this weekend anyway, I can’t say I blame him for wanting to have a little fun. It certainly worked for the 75,000+ that paid to see him.

Personal Bias: It’s a shame last year’s Love and War flew under the radar last year because there’s something charming about its quirks even if it isn’t his strongest effort. Honestly, how many artists aside from Paisley have the creative respect and connections to have John Fogerty, Timbaland, and Mick Jagger all appear on their record? Plus, “selfie#theinternetisforever” is a great entry in the realm of “songs that are obvious two different songs jammed together.”

The Crowd: 75,016 strong, putting him literally two tickets ahead of Chris Stapleton and literally two tickets behind Garth Brooks in the battle of country music ticket sales at this year’s rodeo. I had predicted 72,000 based on crowd noise and the like once Paisley took the stage, but crowd enthusiasm suffered a touch, I believe, from the fact that the final day of regular rodeo competition was so long, including a tiebreaker round in bull riding.

Mutton Bustin’, Day 19 Update: It’s a good thing that mutton bustin’ only happens once a year. Absence gives us time to miss the excitement that comes from a good run, the sympathy “awe”s that come from a kid who stands up with tears in their eyes, and the inevitable “I practiced on my dad” responses the kids give when describing how they won. Tonight’s winner wants to be a fireman when he grows up. Best of luck to you, champ.

Random Notebook Dump: If you’ll allow me to indulge in just a little bit of navel gazing, having sat through eight performances at this year’s rodeo, this is how I’d rank the best performances I saw at RodeoHouston in 2018.

9. Keith Urban
8. Jason Aldean
7. Blake Shelton
6. Alessia Cara
5. Chris Stapleton
4. Zac Brown Band
3. Brad Paisley
2. Garth Brooks (Night One)
1. Luke Bryan