RodeoHouston's Current Constant Brad Paisley Mostly Gets the Job Done

Photos by Reggie Mathalone.
Brad Paisley
NRG Stadium
March 18, 2K23

It’s a simple question with a complex answer: how does one become a RodeoHouston regular?

Getting a shot at the Rodeo isn’t something that seems particularly difficult if you’re a mainstream recording artist; you just need to get one decently popular song and have enough material to fill out an hour or so and you're golden. You might never get invited back, but it’ll be enough to get you to the dance.

But the history of RodeoHouston is full of legends that only played a handful of times. Dolly played once in ‘78. The god George Jones only had three Rodeo appearances. Garth Brooks? Four times in three different years.

To become a regular at RodeoHouston is something special. You must be popular enough to draw in tens of thousands every year but not so popular that you become too expensive to bring in. You have to have a catalog of bangers that crowds don’t get sick of. And you need to be charismatic enough to carry a show of that size year in and year out.

And for over a decade now, Brad Paisley has been that dude. Other than a break in 2013, Paisley has performed at every non-pandemic Rodeo since 2008. His setlists have been largely the same — I counted 12 repeats from the first time I saw him back in 2012 — but no one is ever going to be, “I sure wish he’d retire ‘Ticks.” He’s the performer most comfortable getting in the dirt, and the one most at ease at interacting with crowds. He’s everything you want a Rodeo headliner to be.
click to enlarge
Photos by Reggie Mathalone.
That said, we must talk about the elephant in the room arena. Deep into the show, Paisley brought out a special guest, one Representative Dan Crenshaw. It was at this point for at least a few people in the audience that the fun bubble burst. Yes, he’s not awful in the way that Ted Cruz is awful, but, for example, he still voted against the Respect for Marriage Act.

Make no mistake, if you want to become a Rodeo regular, you need to appeal to both sides of the aisle — “Republicans buy sneakers, too” and all that — but you don’t have to be so obvious about it. Paisley didn’t perform his song with Volodymyr Zelenskyy after all.

It was just a weird moment in an otherwise good show from a guy who has played “Old Alabama” at the Rodeo more times than the actual band Alabama have played the Rodeo. Even the best can’t win them all all of the time. But hey, there’s always next year.

Personal Bias: This is something like the eleventh time I’ve heard “Alcohol” live, which is a song I don’t particularly like. I’ve heard my two favorite songs live a total of three times, and one of those was a cover by Nickelback. The life of a critic is weird.

The Crowd: In the neighborhood of 74,000+, reported to be a sell out for Mr. Paisley and a super-ultra-mega sellout for a one hit wonder embellishing his crowd-size.

Overheard in the Crowd: “He’s got no need for one,” said one of the rodeo announcers, on the subject of why one of the stouter steer wrestlers had a collared shirt. (He’s all head, no neck, you see.)

Animal Update: Great night for all things bovine. The steer wrestlers had no answer for an ornery lot, and the calves made the calf rustlers really work for it tonight. The bulls went 5-1 but were very close to a perfect record.

Random Notebook Dump: Call me part of the intolerant left, but if I ever do go to a show where Ted Cruz is brought out as a special guest I'm walking out immediately, professional responsibility be damned. 
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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