Ashley McBryde Proves She's Past The Little Dive Bars At RodeoHouston

Ashley McBryde returned to RodeoHouston Thursday night.
Ashley McBryde returned to RodeoHouston Thursday night. Photo by Violeta Alvarez
Last night wasn't Ashley McBryde's first rodeo.

It literally wasn't. She made her inaugural appearance last year, opening for George Strait. A seemingly daunting task the Arkansas-born singer-songwriter handled with aplomb.

But this was McBryde's first go as a headliner, and she made the most of the opportunity, laying down a blazing set that further solidified her country bona fides while confirming her status as a formidable live performer. And one who won't have to worry that the folks asking her to play the Rodeo are pulling her leg.

She took the stage following the calf scramble and mutton bustin' opening acts to a aggro rendition of "Made For This," followed by "El Dorado," featuring some Eagles-esque double guitar action from Joe Andrews and Matt Helmkamp.

McBryde herself was resplendent in a red sequined jumpsuit, and seemed to be having a hell of a time, waving to folks in the audience and remarking more than once how humbled she was to be at the Rodeo (also referring to having "chicken skin," which I assume is an Arkansas-ism for "goosebumps"). It was a much more comfortable performance than 2022, and McBryde really "explored the space" of the Rodeos' rotating stage, in the truest Bruce Dickinson (yes, *the* Bruce Dickinson) sense.

And if there were any concerns the cavernous environs of NRG would swallow some of McBryde's more intimate numbers, fear not; "LIght On in the Kitchen" hit like a gender-swapped "Simple Man," while the crowd reacted favorably — to put it mildly — to "A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega," the song that really put her on the map, even if it probably plays better in, well, dive bars.

But venues like that are probably in McBryde's rear view mirror, if the response to "Martha Divine" and "Brenda Put Your Bra On" was any indication. The former posits what a daughter might do in response to Dolly Parton's "Jolene" moving in on her father, while "Brenda" is a perfect study in trailer park schadenfreude.

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A headliner in her own right.
Photo by Violeta Alvarez
For her part, McBryde told us it feels like she's still playing in bars, "they've just gotten a lot cooler." Dunno if NRG Stadium qualifies as "cool." The Astrodome? Maybe.

But the sentiment carried through with "Tired of Being Happy" — not a cheating song but "a fixin’ to cheat song," and "Sparrow," both of which showcased her vocal chops and demonstrated how comfortable McBryde is alternating between the raucous and the melancholy.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has excelled at broadening the appeal of its entertainers, which is why things like Bun B's Southern Takeover and Go Tejano Day are so successful. Hopefully they continue to realize the appeal and importance of performers like Ashley McBryde, who stand astride country's traditionalism and its future.

Made For This
El Dorado
Texas When I Die (Tanya Tucker cover) Intro
Whiskey and Country Music
Brenda Put Your Bra On
Martha Divine
Light On In The Kitchen
A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega
The Devil I Know
Tired of Being Happy
One Night Standards
Livin' next to Leroy /Superstitious/Midnight Rider
The Bluest Eyes in Texas (Restless Heart cover)
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar