Last Night: Clay Walker At RodeoHouston

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Clay Walker Reliant Stadium March 1, 2011

Check out pictures from Clay Walker's show, Rodeo's opening night, and all the midway has to offer in our slideshow.

This year's round of RodeoHouston performers began with Gov. Rick Perry, Clay Walker, a truckload of patriotism, and a few tears. Those things are all not all related, at least not in regards to Tuesday night, unless you account for the fact that Walker and Perry are good friends. It will make sense in a few paragraphs.

As far as country stars go, Walker is pretty unassuming. He comes from the the early-'90s old-school class that came after Garth and George, but right before everyone went Hollywood and/or country's version of '80s hair-metal.

He's still very much the utilityman on the scene. You won't see his mugshot anytime soon, and he doesn't have a starlet wife. He could be your neighbor down the street mowing the lawn every Saturday, or the guy next to you at the grocery store wrangling his brood.

Since we have all now been so conditioned to outrageousness, Walker's normality is at once off-putting, but to honest it's also comforting. That's why with the right string of hits, a younger cat like Easton Corbin could probably be on the revolving stage at Reliant Stadium in the next few years. That kind of country music is soothing because it's the sound of sanity. Which can be booooring, but no less affecting.

Which brings us back to Tuesday night, when Walker was introduced by Gov. Perry, who had just rambled off script with the rodeo announcers for the previous ten minutes. Perry was making a quasi-stump speech, but with a captive, voting audience, why wouldn't he? Funnily enough, Perry in a cowboy hat looks almost exactly like Walker himself, and anonymous, without the flowing locks ablaze. If we would have seen Perry anywhere else on the Reliant grounds, we would have been hard-pressed on first glance to say he was the governor.

The first few songs of Walker's set were boilerplate patriotic, aw-shucks, life-affirming twang. Opener "Live Until I Die" is as catchy as ever 18 years since its debut-album showing, and the new "All American" came with a nice tribute to overseas boys fighting the good fight.

It was getting dreadfully ho-hum and clinical until Walker started talking about his RodeoHouston history, which began just steps away at the Astrodome. Each year the amount of artists who played the old girl next door almost a decade ago is dwindling with age, retirement or death.

Once he started talking about his ailing father, who had just been released from M.D. Anderson into a hospice, things turned more human and less rote country entertainment.

We all know what a hospice means in a family, and it hurts to even think about it, but Walker was out there, breaking down in front of thousands of people while he spoke about the journey his father is taking. The crowd cheered for that moment of very public emotion, even as he sang his father's request, "A Cowboy's Toughest Ride."

If it was us, and our father was dying slowly a few miles away, we would have told RodeoHouston to suck the big one and phoned up the bookers at Firehouse Saloon, Blancos, or even Robert Ellis to play in our place. Walker is a strong one, though, and he made it through the song with the help of the thousands.

After "Toughest Ride," his set lit up with energy and playfulness, running through "This Woman And This Man", "She Won't Be Lonely Long" and "I Can't Sleep." The crowd was more than behind after everything we all went through with him. We even saw beach balls launching into the crowd.

Earlier there wasn't a dry eye in the house, now there was hardly a frown.

Personal Bias: We wanna know where Walker got that bitchin' pearl-snap.

The Crowd: Lots of older couples settling in for the safety and tradition of Walker, away from the other bleached-tipped acts and electric gurgle.

Overheard From Gov. Perry: Asked what kind of rodeo events he liked, Perry proclaimed "Bareback!", which was met with snickering cheers.

Random Notebook Dump: We never want to get used to the opening fireworks of any rodeo show. It makes us feel five years old all over again each time.

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