In a sense, RodeoHouston is the best and worst venue for a Garth Brooks show. On one hand, the abbreviated set time, as Garth would acknowledge early in the show, doesn’t really allow for the banter and theatrics for which Brooks is so famously known. On the other, as the unequivocal king of country music, playing before more than 75,000 fans in the biggest show in RodeoHouston history – more than 150,000 if you count his Rodeo-opening set as well – provides Brooks the opportunity to play before a large-scale, stadium-sized crowd.
Now, I’ve made my affinity for Garth Brooks well-known in the past. Not only do I consider him the greatest, most significant figure in country music history, but Brooks ranks among the most relevant, influential figures in music history, period. So it was a treat to witness him dust off the boots one more time for a 14-song, 65-minute set that spanned decades and even featured a noteworthy guest star.
Brooks began his set with “Rodeo,” which certainly made sense, before blasting through other hits of yesteryear like “The River,” “Two Pina Coladas,” “That Summer,” and “Ain’t Goin’ Down (Till the Sun Comes Up).” Brooks, ever the showman, admitted that he would have to cool the banter a bit in the interest of saving time, as opposed to his own personal concerts, which can run upwards of 2-3 hours.
He and his band of musical backers didn’t disappoint, but four items from Sunday night’s Rodeo-closing set stood out in particular:
*Trisha Yearwood, Brooks’ wife and an accomplished musician in her own right, joined her husband on-stage for “In Another’s Eyes,” before taking the lead for her hit single, “She’s in Love With the Boy.” The vibe I got while watching Brooks and Yearwood serenade one another was simple – man, these two really like one another.
*Brooks played the famous third verse from “The Thunder Rolls,” whereupon the scorned wife has enough of her husband’s extracurricular activities and pulls a pistol on him. Wasn’t sure if they’d go with this version, what with Rodeo being a family affair, but I’m glad they did.
*Speaking of third verses, the famed third verse from “Friends in Low Places” made its way to the Rodeo as well. If there’s a better country karaoke song than this, I dare you to show me.
*Brooks closed his set with “The Dance,” and this also makes sense. Not only is it Brooks’ favorite song from his own catalog, it’s the song that truly made him a country superstar nearly 30 years ago.
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RodeoHouston is nearly 90 years old, a fact that was not lost upon Brooks. In fact, he made it known that, if he’s able, he would love to take the stage once again to help the Rodeo ring in its Centennial anniversary. Brooks would be over 70 at that ime, and there’s no doubt he would still put on a show worthy of an event like RodeoHouston. Even so, here’s hoping it’s not nearly that long before the most revolutionary figure in country music history finds his way back to Houston.
So, How About the Crowd?: Really, it was Houston in a nutshell. Our city is one of the most diverse in America, and the show-closing crowd at RodeoHouston was no exception. Fans young and old, male and female, from all walks of life, arrived to get a glimpse of country music royalty. This has always been Garth’s main appeal. Whereas some country icons – George Strait, as an example – cater more to the country crowd, Garth appeals to that crowd, along with anyone who appreciates a good pop song. That probably explains why he’s sold more records than just about any other artists in music history.
Random Notebook Dump: I was at the last Garth Brooks RodeoHouston show in 1993. Yes, 25 years have passed since I saw Garth as an 11-year old. Time flies. Enjoy the moment … “The Dance” is probably the greatest song in country music history … You could make a case that “Friends in Low Places” is the second greatest song in country music history … Was hoping for a little Brooks/Yearwood pairing of “Shameless,” but when you’re crunched for time, cuts have to be made.
So, About Next Year’s Rodeo?: As I wrote before, RodeoHouston – from a concert perspective, at least – may very well soon become a victim of its own success. After all, when you get the greatest entertainer in country music history to not only open the Rodeo, but close it at as well, the bar is set even higher for 2019. If schedules align, and she’s game, I can’t think of a better artist to close next year’s Rodeo than former country queen turned pop star Taylor Swift. Or perhaps Mr. Man of the Woods himself, Justin Timberlake, would consider the invite. Or, have Chris Stapleton or Zac Brown Band close things out and you can’t really go wrong.