Country icon Reba McEntire has a long history with Rodeo Houston. Not only has she played the Rodeo in front of more than a million fans, she’s the only woman with her own gold plaque along the Rodeo’s “Star Trail of Fame,” glittering alongside the likes of Gene Autry, Alan Jackson, and Elvis Presley.
It all started in 1984 when, at age 28, she first graced the Astrodome stage. She’d go on to visit the Rodeo 17 more times—this year makes 18. “I’ll never forget the first time I played in Houston in the Astrodome,” McEntire says. “That was before we had the ear monitors, and you had that second delay and it would drive you crazy.”
McEntire grew up in a rodeo family. Both her dad and granddad were champion steer ropers, and her brother and sister also competed. “Rodeo-ing is in my blood,” she says. “I’m a third-generation rodeo brat, so getting to perform and singing at the Houston Astrodome was a huge, huge, event for me the first time I got to do it.”
In fact, without the rodeo there might not be any Reba. In the early 1970s, she was discovered while singing the national anthem at a rodeo in Oklahoma City, and in ’75, she scored a record contract with Polygram Mercury. Four decades, 14 No. 1 albums, and 80 million records later, rodeo crowds still bring out the best in her, she says. “They do love to be entertained. They are thrill-seekers in the first place for being at a rodeo, and they love good entertainment.”
McEntire has always gone to great lengths to put on a show for those thrill-seekers, one year even agreeing to be lowered from the Dome’s ceiling down to the stage in a tiny cage, despite a paralyzing fear of heights. It was her manager and husband, Narvel Blackstock, who finally convinced her to go through with the stunt. “He said, ‘Okay, Garth [Brooks] will do it!’ she recalls, laughing. “And so, I did it. And I was scared to death!”
McEntire says the invitation to perform this year felt like “her family calling her home.” What should fans expect this time around? A good mixture of songs, she says, spanning her career. Sounds good. Is there any chance we’ll see Reba dangling from the rafters of Reliant? Not a chance. “I will not be lowered from the ceiling,” she says. “I promise you that!” —P.H.