The Band Perry at Reliant Stadium, 3/22/2014

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Photos courtesy of Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo
The Band Perry
Reliant Stadium
March 22, 2014

Even in 2014, Queen's "Fat Bottom Girls" is not a song one normally expects to hear once in rodeo season, let alone twice. While Neil Perry, youngest member of the twentysomething Mobile-born sibling trio, couldn't bring quite the same lascivious smirk to the song as Kevin Fowler at the World's Championship Bar-B-Que cookoff a few weeks ago, he did reassert its value as a surefire crowd-pleaser whose ability to cause people both his age and a generation older titter and clap along simultaneously is almost eternal.

Saturday night at RodeoHouston, "Girls" also gave Neil's older sister Kimberly a chance to take a much-needed breather. Up to that point, about halfway through the band's hourlong set to an announced crowd of 73,943, she had hardly stopped moving for a second -- twisting, shouting, shaking, pumping her fists in the air, and generally doing the kinds of things singers do to hold a stadium full of people's attention. In the past the knock on the Band Perry in the past has been that they're a little green, a little too unsure of themselves to rank among country's elite acts, but that wasn't the group that showed up Saturday.


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Easton Corbin at Reliant Stadium, 3/21/2014

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Photos courtesy of Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo
Easton Corbin
Reliant Stadium
March 21, 2014

Perhaps in the future the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo can line up one shameless throwback entertainer per season, not some old veteran whose days of heavy airplay are long behind him or her, but a commercially viable younger artist who demonstrates that country music is not completely dominated by wannabe outlaws or well-meaning buffoons. They do still exist, and some of them are even quite talented.

Maybe it can even sign up an appropriate company like Wrangler or Justin Boots to be a presenting sponsor; since "Throwback Thursday" is such a thing these days, why not do it then? The rodeo might as well, because that's what it got Friday when Easton Corbin made his debut to a Friday-night crowd that was smaller than it should have been at 58,784 announced, but young and female enough that hopefully the 31-year-old Floridian has wedged open the door for many appearances to come.


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Houston Meets -- Gasp! -- Dallas at the Rodeo's Champion Wine Garden

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Photos by Angelica Leicht
"Happy Rodeo! It's like our own little holiday! I love it!"

It's early in the evening, but the wine and the greetings are both flowing at Carruth Plaza in the heart of Reliant Park. The folks here are dressed to the nines for rodeo season, and between the blingy cowboy hats and expensive oversized turquoise jewelry, it's beginning to feel a bit like the set of Dallas -- with a RodeoHouston twist, of course.

Nearby, a well-dressed man is posing on top of the bronze statues in the rodeo's Champion Wine Garden, an outdoor "lounge" right in the shadow of Reliant Stadium, but no one seems to mind his selfies. A couple of glasses of wine will loosen even the stiffest bolo tie, and there is plenty of wine available here to work that magic.


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Florida Georgia Line at Reliant Stadium, 3/19/2014

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Photos by Nicholas Zalud
Florida Georgia Line
Reliant Stadium
March 19, 2014

Florida Georgia Line are easy to mistake for "bro country": they rhyme "Bocephus" with "Jesus" and would sooner walk as drive around in anything other than a candy-painted Silverado. But "bro-country" implies some sort of douchiness at its core, and these two guys are anything but clueless. They know exactly what they're doing; they're just unusually dedicated to having fun. It's just what they do.

Not that much different from Sinatra, when you think about it. More or less.

Perhaps a better term for the duo of Brian Kelley (Florida) and Tyler Hubbard (Georgia) would be "viral country." Certainly their breakout single "Cruise" has conquered everything in its path (6.3 million downloads and counting), but it's merely the biggest earworm on their platinum 2012 debut LP, Here's to the Good Times. Wednesday night Kelley and Hubbard tapped the keg and invited over 74,880 of their closest friends, for an enormous tailgate party that had to have been one of the most audacious debuts in RodeoHouston history.

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Robin Thicke at Reliant Stadium, 3/18/2014

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Photos by Marco Torres
Robin Thicke
Reliant Stadium
March 18, 2014

Robin Thicke finishes strong. Down on his knees, on top of a piano, arms raised to the sky as fireworks go off, he looks like a champ. The crowd is roaring, as it comes down from the high of "Blurred Lines," and as he and his band take a last bow and he heads over to the pickup truck that will take him out of the arena, it's easy to feel as if his first RodeoHouston performance was a triumph. And if you judge the show just by its end, maybe it was.

Of course, there's the little matter of the rest of his set, which was hardly inspiring, and a strong ending does not make a show good. That's not to say that Thicke didn't try to put on a good show; he really looked like he was giving it his all out there.

Unfortunately, his all wasn't particularly memorable.


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Luke Bryan at Reliant Stadium, 3/17/2014

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Photos courtesy of Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo
Luke Bryan
Reliant Stadium
March 17, 2014

Luke Bryan knows a lot of things.

For example, Luke knows the value of a good drinking reference. He'll "Drink a Beer." He'll get "Drunk on You." If you need to crash a night out of drinking with the boys, it's cool. Hell, even the rain is a good thing because through a series of events it eventually leads to whiskey, which is also a good thing.

It's a familiar country trope to be sure, but there's something comforting about that. It's not so gung-ho country to be alienating -- beer is slightly more universal than John Deere -- but it feels just right at the rodeo, which would explain why 75,078 people packed Reliant Stadium to see him.

Or maybe it's just because he knows the value of a bit of ass-shaking.


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UPDATED: Go Tejano Day at Reliant Stadium, 3/16/2014

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Photos by Marco Torres
Grupo Pesado made their third RodeoHouston appearance Sunday evening.
UPDATED (Monday, 4:30 p.m.): Actually this year's Go Tejano attendance fell short of last year's record by less than 100 people. Still a lot of folks.

Go Tejano Day, feat. Pesado and Banda MS
Reliant Stadium
March 16, 2014

"Tejano is dead...at least at RodeoHouston".

-- me, every year


The above statement is true, but RodeoHouston still managed to sell a record 75,224 tickets to Sunday's annual Go Tejano Day at Reliant Stadium. And boy, it sure did feel like every one of those ticketholders showed up to see Grupo Pesado and La Banda MS deliver their impassioned sonidos for their adoring fans.

Go Tejano Day traditionally attracts among the largest crowds in the rodeo's season, if not the largest, and at least five previous editions can still be found in the Top 20 all-time attendance days.


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Keith Urban at Reliant Stadium, 3/14/2014

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Photos courtesy of Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo
Keith Urban
Reliant Stadium
March 14, 2014

"This is the fifth time we've played the rodeo, and this is also the most amount of people we've played to in Houston," Keith Urban said halfway through his set at Reliant Stadium Friday, to an announced crowd of 74,054. "As a matter of fact, the first time we played was in 2005, and I have the buckle to prove it."

As Urban lifted his shirt, the cameras zoomed in on his belt. A bit of the New Zealand-born singer/songwriter's skin and crotch also filled the screens overhead as fans shouted their approval. At this point, the ladies in the crowd made themselves heard.

But Urban is already taken. He's a happily married father who credits his wife -- film star and fellow Aussie Nicole Kidman -- with saving his life, and his newfound passion for life bled into his songs Friday night. The 46-year-old musician was as spry as a twentysomething, displaying an infectious enthusiasm for life.


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Hunter Hayes at Reliant Stadium, 03/15/2014

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Photos courtesy of Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo
That's Hunter Hayes on the right
According to Billboard, in a little less than two months Hunter Hayes will attempt to break the Guinness world record for most concerts played within a 24-hour period. On May 9 and 10, he will play one gig about every three hours on a ten-city itinerary going from Good Morning America to a 5 a.m. show the next morning at Philadelphia's Trocadero.

If Hayes shows up with even half the energy he had at his RodeoHouston debut Saturday, playing before an impressive crowd of 73,768 people, he should break the record easily and have enough energy left over for a brunch gig in Atlantic City. The 23-year-old entertainer came on like a walking can of Red Bull, even breaking Jake Owen's unofficial rodeo record for earliest time heading into the crowd -- Hayes wasn't even done with his opener, "Wild Card" before he was running across the dirt.

He had good reason to be beside himself. Hayes grew up not terribly far from Houston in Breaux Bridge, La., and sounded both awestruck and humbled when he told the crowd, "this has been our dream for a long time."


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Jake Owen at Reliant Stadium, 3/12/2014

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Photos courtesy of Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo
Jake Owen
Reliant Stadium
March 12, 2013

Jake Owen gave up professional golf for country music. Wonder how much that decision weighed on him.

Not much, probably. No idea what kind of golfer he was, but Owen has such an easy charisma and magnetic orientation towards audiences -- most of all of the young female variety, like the ladies holding up "Jake Owen Prom?" signs Wednesday -- that it's hard to imagine him doing anything else.

He also looks an awful damn lot like Luke Wilson, so Old School flashbacks were not uncommon throughout his set before 68,008 paid customers Wednesday night, his second straight RodeoHouston appeareance. Earlier Wednesday, one of the rodeo officials who works with us press types mentioned her concern that Owen might not stay onstage long enough to be photographed. He barely did, but by "Beachin'" he was already running toward the seats. And the man does take a good selfie.


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