RodeoHouston concerts: Garth Brooks, Keith Urban and J. Balvin
It seems like everyone in Houston knows when Garth Brooks is playing RodeoHouston, because everyone wants a ticket. But he’s far from the only musical star setting up shop in the dirt. Here’s the lineup to this year’s concerts. Check the RodeoHouston website for ticket details.
Little Big Town
It’s been a slow, steady burn for Little Big Town, which released its first album in 2002. But the country band enjoyed a huge surge of success thanks to “Girl Crush,” a slow-burning ballad about a woman obsessing over an ex-boyfriend’s new flame. The song went on to become 2015′s best-selling country single and spawned a bit of controversy, with some thinking it might have suggested a same-sex romance.
Blake Shelton has built his career on country music songs like “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking,” “Honey Bee” and “God Gave Me You.” But the Oklahoma native is much more than that these days as one of the original coaches on “The Voice.” And last year, People Magazine named Shelton its Sexiest Man Alive. How’s that for expanding his brand?
There were lots of questions, criticisms and blank stares when Leon Bridges was announced as this year’s Black Heritage Day performer. The Fort Worth-based singer has released just one album, never charted on the Billboard Hot 100 and appeals to a largely white audience. His music, however, is steeped in ’50s and ’60s soul, and he’s earned comparisons to Sam Cooke and Otis Redding.
Kelsea Ballerini is young, blond and writes sweetly personal, country-pop songs about her life and relationships. The Taylor Swift comparison comes easily. But Ballerini has quickly established herself as a unique, individual force. In fact, she became the first woman to top the country charts with her first three singles since Wynonna Judd did it in 1992.
Alessia Cara was named best new artist in January, beating out critical favorites SZA and Khalid. Much of Cara’s music has taken on issues of self-worth. Her 2015 debut single, “Here,” and follow-up “Wild Things” were anthems of sorts for introverts. “Scars to Your Beautiful” took on body image and body positivity. And she joined rapper Logic and singer/songwriter Khalid on “1-800-273-8255,” which addresses suicide.
Rascal Flatts has, perhaps, more in common with Journey and Air Supply than it does Alabama or Oak Ridge Boys. The country act combines feel-good harmonies, power ballads, lots of hair product and liberal doses of glitter. (Check out LeVox’s pants onstage.) It’s resulted in 14 No. 1 singles.
The country star has described his sound as “kind of like Guns N’ Roses meets Hank Jr. And George Strait’s hangin’ around at the party, too.” It’s country with a kick. That blend has made him one of the genre’s biggest stars, and his previous RodeoHouston performances have been among the most energetic, as the rock influences give every song something extra onstage.
This ain’t your grandma’s country heartthrob. Country is the framework, to be sure. But Rhett’s sound, like so many young country upstarts, is informed by a bevy of genres. You can hear it in songs like “Crash and Burn” and “Vacation,” which owe as much or more to Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars as they do to George Jones and Merle Haggard.
George Strait is often called the king of RodeoHouston. But there’s a good case to be had for giving Luke Bryan the title, as his past performances have drawn some of the biggest crowds in rodeo history. He is the only act with four shows in the all-time top 20, each one topping out at more than 75,000. And he has performed every year since 2012.
Chris Young has a commanding, gritty twang that often echoes Randy Travis and other genre greats. It’s put to good use on singles “Voices,” “Who I Am With You” and “Sober Saturday Night.” This will be his fifth time on the RodeoHouston stage.
Last year, RodeoHouston gave Cody Johnson the opportunity of a lifetime. The Texas country singer was a last-minute replacement for the country act Old Dominion. His debut performance drew more than 60,000 fans to NRG Stadium. “It changed everything last year,” Johnson says. It also earned him a second invitation - entirely on his own. No last-minute replacements.
Calibre 50 mines the traditional norteño sound for something deeper. The band incorporates corridos, reggae, cumbias and rancheras into its mix. They also deftly balance romantic tunes with social commentary on immigration and Mexico’s drug culture. They’re also savvy on social media. Calibre 50 boasts 1.7 billion YouTube views on its official channel and 12 million Facebook fans.
Zac Brown Band
RodeoHouston can always use a little bit of chicken-fried. This will be the Zac Brown Band’s seventh time on the rotating stage. And each time, it’s a showcase for the band’s gorgeous harmonies and joyful spirit.
J Balvin is known for his high-energy shows and hip-swiveling anthems. You’re likely familiar with at least one of his songs or collaborations. His single “Mi Gente” was one of 2017′s biggest hits and was, at one point, Spotify’s most-streamed song in the world.
OneRepublic seems like the perfect RodeoHouston pop act - with big anthems designed for stadium singalongs that appeal to a wide swath of fans. It’s a surprise then, that Ryan Tedder and crew are just making their debut this year.
Urban’s RodeoHouston performances are like master classes in audience participation. The country superstar does a terrific job of breaking down the wall between audience and performer. He poses for selfies. He asks fans where they’re from. He improvises lyrics to fit the situation. He jumps into the seats and races up and down the aisles. He’s even signed and given away his guitar during past performances
Stapleton’s sound, called everything from classic to outlaw country to Southern rock, feels old-school and current all at once. It’s helped Stapleton connect with a diverse set of fans. Onstage, his whiskey-soaked voice seems as much informed by soul music as it does country. Every moment feels urgent and inspired.
Paisley is this year’s RodeoHouston veteran. He’s taking his 12th trip around NRG Stadium, and it likely won’t veer much from last year’s blueprint. Or the year before. Or six years ago. That’s not a dig. The country star likely keeps it the same because what he does works so well.