Skip Seeing Walker Hayes Live and Just Go to Applebee's

Photo by Darrin Clifton
Walker Hayes
NRG Stadium
March 4, 2K23

There’s a bit that hack comedians do when they want to make fun of country music. You know the drill; “All country songs are about my wife leaving, my dog dying and my truck breaking.” This sort of bit doesn’t really work anymore because that’s not what modern country is all about. These days it’s girls shaking it, hunting, fishing, John Deere, cold beer, dirt roads, trucks, flannel shirts, and so on and so forth. It feels like every country artist has conquered a bad bout of writer’s block by doing their own take on “here’s a list of country cliches I indulge in.”

Walker Hayes “Country Stuff” is the worst version of this particular type of song. It’s so empty and vapid that it feels like something ChatGPT would spit out if you gave it a crash course in Luke Bryan songs. “Country Stuff” started off Hayes’ debut at RodeoHouston, and it set a worrying tone for the rest of the night.

The good news was as the show progressed, Hayes injected more of his own personality and story into this songs. “Don’t Let Her,” “Craig” and to a lesser extend “High Heels” also feature elements that are unique to Hayes in them. While there’s nothing wrong with striving for universality in your song lyrics, listening to Hayes sing about his wife, his troubles with addition, his relationship to the church, and just being the Applebee's guy gave his music some texture to help it stand out.

The bad news is that all of his songs are universally terrible, further harmed by the fact that Hayes is not a particularly great singer for the type of songs that he performs, nor does he have the natural charisma to pull them off. For a guy who works pretty much exclusively in short, pop country, the fact that none of his songs have a single memorable melody is exhausting. The closest thing he has to an earworm is “Fancy Like,” and that’s because it’s more radio jingle than song.
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Photo by Darrin Clifton
All the power in the world to the man for making the most of his 15 minutes. That we could all be so lucky as to stumble into viral success and make our lives the lives of those around us better. No one should knock Hayes for his hustle and his earnestness.

But this was one of the worst shows that’s ever graced the big stage at the Rodeo. And it wasn’t bad in a fun way, like when someone you know sucks eats in humiliating fashion. This was just a guy out of his element with songs too small for a stadium and not enough personality to bridge the gap. So in the end, it wasn’t bad exactly; it was just sort of sad, and that’s not why anyone goes to the Rodeo.

Personal Bias: Speaking as someone who has been on a date night to Applebea’s a time or two, I can’t trust anyone who thinks the Oreo shake is the way to go. Why would you grab something that you can get any number of places when the Triple Chocolate Meltdown is right there?

The Crowd:
69,507 strong, which is a respectable number, higher than most first Rodeo Saturdays. Hayes announced from the stage he was told it was a sellout, and I’m not going to editorialize any more than admitting I snorted when he said that.

Overheard in the Crowd: “Let’s go Astros!” Apparently, it doesn’t matter if it’s a completely different sport, if a Houston crowd is leaving an event, someone is going to yell this out.

Animal Vs. Children Update: The calf scramble and mutton busting events were pretty disappointing on this night. No one really struggled to earn their calf. No kids ended up crying in the dirt. Just seemed like the animals' hearts weren’t into it.

About That Drone Show: Interesting idea, weird execution. They held it over the NRG Arena, so it was kind of out of the way; if you didn’t know you were supposed to be looking for something, the lights could easily blend into the noise of the many other carnival lights. Let’s hope they revisit the concept in the future, but preferably somewhere a little more centrally located on the park grounds.
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Cory Garcia is a Contributing Editor for the Houston Press. He once won an award for his writing, but he doesn't like to brag about it. If you're reading this sentence, odds are good it's because he wrote a concert review you don't like or he wanted to talk pro wrestling.
Contact: Cory Garcia