March 14, 2019
Chris Stapleton doesn’t do pomp and circumstance. Whereas some country superstars of the modern era - the Luke Bryans and Florida Georgia Lines of the world - revel in the showmanship of country music, Stapleton is more a throwback in the vein of George Jones and George Strait.
Not that there’s anything wrong with making a show of country music; hell, Garth Brooks has made a career of it, and he’s the most successful country music artist of all time. And artists like Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and the like have certainly experienced success in their own right.
That said, as Stapleton proved before more than 72,000 fans at NRG Stadium on Thursday night at Rodeo Houston, sometimes, less is more. Stapleton and his merry band of talented backers plowed through an hour-long, 11-song set that was high on hits.
Stapleton, with his long hair, shaggy beard and trademark cowboy hat, isn’t much for banter. Sure, he chatted up the HoustonRodeo crowd a bit, and gave his band a well-deserved intro as the set wound down, but this is a singer-songwriter who came to play the songs he wrote.
With his talented wife Morgane singing backing vocals and playing the tambourine, Stapleton took the stage around 9:15 with “Broken Halos.” From there, the set was a mishmash of hits. From “Nobody to Blame” to “Traveller” to “Might as Well Get Stoned,” Stapleton was heavy on the Traveller album that made him a superstar a few years back.
But it was two tracks that set him apart on this particular Thursday night. “Fire Away,” a personal favorite and a song that likely would have been a hit single had Stapleton elected to release it as such, is country-pop perfection. And the show-closing “Tennessee Whiskey” was, is and will remains a country classic for years to come.
Will Stapleton ever light it up like a Bryan or Brooks? Doubtful. Is he among the foremost singer-songwriters in the game today, and a welcome presence on the RodeoHouston stage for years to come? Without question.
Overheard in the crowd: “So who’s going to be the big name next year?” That’s a damn good question. If anything, this year’s Rodeo Houston lineup was an embarrassment of riches. Young up-and-comers like Kacey Musgraves and Kane Brown, mixed with legends like Tim McGraw and Brooks & Dunn, combined with RodeoHouston staples like Luke Bryan and Zac Brown Band? Then, you throw in a headliner like George Strait. RodeoHouston has certainly raised the bar for 2020.
Random notebook dump: Attended the Rodeo four times this year, a personal high … If there is justice in the world, Jason Isbell gets a slot on next year’s Rodeo bill … Same for Lukas Nelson … Eric Church? Well, a boy can dream.
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