When it comes to this year's rodeo, the Garth gave, and the Garth hath taken away. His opening night performance blew us away, and, after last night's closer, he managed to one-up himself with even more music and energy (a seemingly impossible feat). Below, two editors—both first-time rodeo attendees—offer their takes on the night's performance.
We began the night with Aaron, the easy-breezy pedicab driver who allowed us to play music over his Bluetooth bike speaker. Our ride from the parking lot to NRG was exactly four minutes and one second long, aka the length of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise.” As we rolled past stalled traffic through the hot Houston wind, nothing felt more right than hearing Coolio ponder, “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death / I take a look at my life and realize there’s nothing left.”
Inside the stadium, we found ourselves simultaneously perplexed and utterly delighted by our first rodeo. “God bless the horses that carry the cowboys to glory,” the announcer declared to massive applause, without even a hint of irony. At this point, not even an iPhone dropped between the stands into a discarded bowl of nachos could kill my vibe. The subsequent mutton busting lived up to the hype and proved an excellent prelude to Garth, who, once again, appeared truly stoked to be at the rodeo.
He whooped, hollered, and sweated—a lot—around the giant rotating stage, which we affectionately deemed the “Death Star” for its menacing pre-show appearance, each point raised to form a threatening metal claw. Flashing lights, pyrotechnics beneath a giant American flag, and Garth’s entrance by SUV really screamed “Texas.” The show was captivating; Garth was at his best, offering a spirited performance and clearly really thrilled about doing so. Predictably, a rousing rendition of “Friends in Low Places” brought the record-breaking 75,577-person crowd to its feet.
The best moment of the show, though, was the surprise appearance by Garth’s wife, Trisha Yearwood, a bona fide country star in her own right, who sang the 1991 hit that made her one, “She’s in Love with the Boy.” Garth, strumming his guitar and beaming all the while, was visibly enamored by his wife and genuinely happy to take a backseat. At the end of the night, he hoped for many more years as “Mr. Yearwood” and promised to return for the rodeo’s 100th anniversary, if he could still walk. If his latest performances are any indication, we’re betting he will.
Let me tell you a truth that sounds like an obnoxious lie: Before Sunday, I'd listened to exactly one Garth Brooks song exactly once in my life, and that song is "Friends in Low Places." It was in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City, where, to make a long story short, I won the night's karaoke competition performing the hit as a duet with my 10th grade world history teacher (our grand prize was a Doraemon keychain currently languishing in my apartment's junk drawer). That our mediocre singing voices were able to woo the judges is more a testament to the song's barn burning appeal than anything else, a fact made more than clear as it brought tens of thousands of fans to their feet last night at NRG Stadium.
To call Garth Brooks a spiritual experience may feel trite, but try telling that to the plentiful fans with their arms raised, palms turned to the rafters as they swayed listlessly to "The River." And these weren't outliers; the country star has an uncanny ability to make each fan feel seen, traveling to each of the star-shaped stage's five points and occasionally hopping down from the stage altogether to touch hands with folks in the front row. In the concert's few talking breaks, he seemed genuinely appreciative for the opportunity to be here in Houston performing, especially during the portions alongside Trisha, his show-stopping wife. The artist's eyes were always dewy with emotion, and his shirt grew progressively more soaked with the sweat of his efforts. This dude wasn't phoning it in.
Sure, maybe I would've preferred some Earth-shaking Beyoncé performance as my first rodeo performer, but it's truly saying something when Garth wins over new fans like me. All this to say: See you in 2032?