Chris Stapleton has the songs and the voice to go with them.EXPAND
Chris Stapleton has the songs and the voice to go with them.
Photo courtesy of Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo

Chris Stapleton Takes RodeoHouston to New Heights Musically

Chris Stapleton
NRG Stadium
March 16, 2K18

The day they unveiled the new RodeoHouston stage, I was lucky enough to stand on the enhanced platform right in the middle of NRG Stadium. I saw all the new lights up close, rode up on one of the star points, and generally just took in the scope of the building from the middle of where the performances took place. And at that moment, the very first thing I thought of was, “Just what in the hell does Chris Stapleton plan on doing with all of this?”

It was easy to picture Garth Brooks running around like a madman or Luke Bryan up in the air shaking his stuff, but trying to picture Stapleton making the most of all the additional space was something my brain just couldn’t figure out. And there was good reason for that, because the answer was, “not much.”

Friday night was all about the music, with every other aspect of the performance taking a back seat. Oh sure, there were lights and the stage spun, but everything that wasn’t coming out of the speakers felt like a bit of an afterthought. Which was fine, and really to the crowd’s delight, as the songs that Stapleton and his band perform are so good you really don’t miss all the trappings of a regular rodeo performance.

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Easily the best show of RodeoHouston 2018 musically, Stapleton succeeds because his songs have that evergreen quality that would have made him a success in any era of country music. Maybe he wouldn’t be playing in front of 75,000+ people, but people would be paying to hear him take them to church or provide the soundtrack for raising hell. Seriously, the stomp in the back half of “Outlaw State of Mind” was so righteous it made me wish someone would lock him in a studio with Isis or Metallica or Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

This was the buzziest show of the year, the one that I imagine had the largest number of people in the building who weren’t there for the music but to say that they were there. Stapleton’s performance gives RodeoHouston some street cred, a tip of the hand that quality matters just as much as the ability to move tickets. In the end, Stapleton and company could have played in the dirt and still delivered.

Personal Bias: I haven’t spent much time with Chris Stapleton’s studio work, but I’m firmly behind him after the absolute miracle he pulled off earlier this year. Yes, I’m talking about dragging Justin Timberlake to a listenable song in the year 2018. “Say Something” is the only reason to listen to Man of the Woods.

The Crowd: 75,014 strong, marking it as the third highest attended show of the year, only four tickets behind the crowd that Garth brought in back on day one. The crowd was rowdier than usual; a lady sitting near my roommate and I kept going “C’mon daddy!” every few minutes, and I’m not sure if she meant daddy in the traditional encouraging way or in the modern “let’s get ready for sexy times” way. Either way, she seemed happy.

Mutton Bustin’, Day 18 Update: You know, I don’t want to be that guy that calls a group of five- and six-year-olds liars, but I just feel in a “law of averages” sort of way that not every father of every winner is really letting their kid jump on their back in the living room to practice in hope that they win a belt buckle. It’s a cute story the first time, but when you hear it damn near every night, well, let’s just say that I’m a cynical jerk.

Random Notebook Dump: While mutton bustin’ has been mostly entertaining this year, I’ve found the calf scramble to be utterly underwhelming. It’s like they’re not even giving the calves the chance to wreck some kids night anymore. I get that it’s for a good cause, but much like bull riding, I always root for the animal, and I just feel like this year the animals are not being given the opportunity to succeed.

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