Tomorrow the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo gets underway for the 85th time, rolling out the hoof-print-stained red carpet for the two-plus-million fans who will pour through the turnstiles of NRG Park through March 26, three very long weeks from now. Caught up somewhere in the swirl of fried food, calf scrambles, carnival rides, volunteers, mutton bustin’, livestock auctions, scholarships, horse shows and tons of shopping is the rodeo’s most diverse concert lineup in years, one that has an excellent chance of shattering its all-time attendance record of 1.377 million people, set just two years ago. Naturally, that lineup was not put together in a vacuum, and in fact the rodeo’s booking team probably has a pretty good idea of who they’ll be inviting to perform at the 2018 edition. However, we figured we'd help them out with a few suggestions anyway, just in case anyone has to drop out; some guesses, of course, are more educated than others.
This one will actually probably happen in the next year or two. Fresh off his string of Grammy nominations this year, coupled with a successful tour, Simpson is kinda the new Chris Stapleton. He’s just accessible enough to be popular, but just unique enough not to blend in with others on the country landscape. Plus, he’s due to start headlining major gigs, and the rodeo certainly qualifies. CLINT HALE
When Joel last played Houston, in November 2015, he recognized the state’s rich contributions to rock and roll. He mixed songs by Janis Joplin, ZZ Top and other local heroes into a set replete with megahits from his own 50-year career. We were so moved we made him an unofficial, honorary Texan. And there’s nothing more Texan than playing a rodeo. Joel’s touring career is now a series of one-off shows booked here and there, so he can ride in like Billy the Kid, lead his mass singalongs around the proverbial campfire and hop his horse back for the Big Apple. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
The rodeo could use some Red Dirt dusted across its pop-country stage. Sure, it’s hosted Robert Earl Keen and Cross Canadian Ragweed in the past, but that’s been at least a few years ago and Houston could stand a refresher course in LaRue's twangy tales of outlaw life and love gone wrong. Only a handful of performers outside Nashville's limelights can foot this bill, and Stoney deserves the opportunity to prove his punch alongside the others who’ve earned the tip of a cowboy hat from the Bayou City. Listen to his “Oklahoma Breakdown” or “Feet Don’t Touch the Ground” and you’ll agree. KRISTY LOYE
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s musical lineups are usually far too boring and conservative for my tastes, particularly its rock acts, so the rodeo needs to shake things up a bit and book thrash-metal legends Slayer. It’s probably never going to happen since the rodeo is a family-friendly event where Slayer’s songs with lyrics about Satanism, Nazism, serial killers, war, the evils of religious fundamentalism, human suffering and death would be too controversial, likely resulting in criticism and protests. But I can dream, can’t I? DAVID ROZYCKI
At one time, writers (and fans) used to be made fun of for defending Lady Gaga. However, it seems the singer has garnered more and more respect as her career has taken on new roles — including lead roles in two seasons of American Horror Story, as well as a duet album with Toni Bennett. Of course, it doesn't hurt that she's been in the spotlight with recent Super Bowl and Grammy performances, where her work has been exposed to people who normally wouldn't attend her concerts. A Lady Gaga concert could also help continue with making the rodeo a more inclusive event in such a diverse city. ALYSSA DUPREE
And why not take it even further to the extreme by booking San Diego deathgrind band Cattle Decapitation, whose songs protest the mistreatment and consumption of animals. The Houston Animal Rights Team (HART) has protested outside the rodeo in past years; by letting Cattle Decapitation play, RodeoHouston will show its openness to opposing points of view and its support of First Amendment rights for all artists. Of course, Cattle Decapitation may not want to support the rodeo in the first place, but only two current members of the band are actually vegetarian now, so maybe they would be open to the idea of getting their message out to a Houston rodeo crowd. I won’t hold my breath waiting to see the band at NRG Stadium anytime soon, though. DAVID ROZYCKI
If the rodeo can book Blink-182, basically the KidzBop of punk, it can certainly book these Texas alt-country veterans with indie-rock crossover appeal. Besides, we should bring attention to acts from our state that deserve it, and RodeoHouston is about the best place going to do that. If you’re still an unbeliever, spin a few of their best beginning with “Let’s Get Drunk and Get It On” and “Crash on the Barrelhead.” The 97's have exactly the kind of rug-cutting, get-down boogie, stand-up bass honky-tonk tunes the rodeo needs, and lots of 'em. KRISTY LOYE
There always seems to be a need for a band that is family-friendly at the rodeo, but Twenty-One Pilots is really a better deal. When they're in town, I see my Facebook News Feed full of people raving about how much they love this band. Likewise, my students request that I play their music as we're cleaning up, and I've even had to grade a few projects on the duo. That said, the band isn't bad. In fact, they remind me of bands that I listened to when I was in middle school, and I don't cringe when I hear their songs play on the radio. ALYSSA DUPREE
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Price’s star began to shine this past year, thanks to a slot on Saturday Night Live. She played a great set at House of Blues last year, which I was fortunate enough to attend. She doesn’t really have the name value just yet to give the rodeo lineup some pop, but she might make for nice inclusion on a Value Wednesday, when folks are more likely to attend because of cheaper ticket prices. They would certainly be in for a treat. CLINT HALE
A couple of years ago, after a series of Toyota Center shows, Brooks made it known he’d like to return. It’s been 25 years since he played the rodeo. Bringing him back with one of his greatest musical influences along would be amazing. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.