Five Things We Learned From RodeoHouston's 2017 Concerts

Chris Stapleton made quite the impression during his RodeoHouston debut.
Chris Stapleton made quite the impression during his RodeoHouston debut.
Photo by Marco Torres
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Another RodeoHouston has come and gone, and with it, another rodeo concert season. There were some unexpected turns – namely, Old Dominion and Meghan Trainor having to drop out, along with more expected fare, such as old rodeo vets like Alan Jackson (playing his 23rd time) and Brad Paisley (his 11th) entertaining packed houses at NRG Stadium. As it often does as a current rodeo winds down, talk has already turned to what the 2018 edition has in store. But to best gauge our future, we must first understand our past, so here are some things we learned from the 2017 RodeoHouston concert calendar.

Stapleton was already a bona fide star by the time he made his rodeo debut on March 9. He had the Grammy nominations, festival gigs and sold-out amphitheater and pavilion shows to give him plenty of musical cred. But the rodeo is a different animal, one that can make it tough on those new to the stage. Fortunately, Stapleton experienced no such issues during his rodeo debut. The Houston Press called it “stunningly soulful,” no easy feat for a country musician. What Stapleton has in his favor is that he bridges the gap between old and new country. On one hand, he has the look, vocal chops and old-school flare to appeal to fans of Willie, Waylon and Merle. On the other, he has written songs for pop-country acts like Luke Bryan, so he knows how to appeal to those who like their country a bit more bro-ish. That’s probably why he will be invited to many future rodeos and will no doubt close one out at some point – just not next year. Speaking of which…

Garth Brooks made one hell of an announcement earlier this month, when he announced that he would open and close next year’s RodeoHouston, meaning he will take the stage at NRG Stadium on February 27 and March 18, 2018. Those two gigs will mark his first rodeo appearances in 25 years; he last played in 1993 at the peak of his commercial fame. Regardless of your opinion of Brooks — and they certainly vary from “greatest country act of all time” to “comically cheesy and overrated” — he set a standard for country stars to follow and damn near single-handedly brought the genre into the pop sphere. He’s also known for his frenetic live shows, which only adds to his allure. Point being, the first and last nights of next year’s rodeo won’t just be the hottest tickets of next year’s rodeo season, but perhaps the two hottest Houston tickets in all of 2018.

The irony of Blink-182 — a bunch of tattooed skater dudes from California — headlining a set at the rodeo was not lost on many of those in attendance. In fact, I received several texts from people at the show who couldn’t help but be taken aback at the diversity of that night’s crowd. One row would feature some teenage kid in a beanie banging his head; behind him, an older man in a cowboy hat with a “how the hell did I end up here?” look about him. As Fall Out Boy did two years ago, Blink-182 weathered the early awkwardness and ended up delivering a quality set. You can expect “Rock Night at the Rodeo” to be a thing for years to come.

Two years ago, I saw Zac Brown Band for the first time. My first thought after they wrapped up a blazing one-hour set? Man, these guys should close out the Rodeo every year. That might have been a bridge too far, but the point remained, ZBB’s return to RodeoHouston saw them close out the festivities. They didn’t disappoint, delivering a nice mix of country, rock and soul before a sold-out crowd at NRG Stadium. ZBB certainly won’t close out next year’s event – Brooks already called it – but here’s hoping they find a spot on the bill.

My opinions on the Chainsmokers are well-documented, but give RodeoHouston officials credit – they took a chance on something new by inviting the EDM duo to play this year’s rodeo. By all accounts, the gamble paid off and perhaps laid the foundation for future EDM acts to grace the rodeo stage. It’s not really my cup of tea, but it appeals to a certain crowd , one who will pack NRG Stadium in the coming years for similar acts.

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