Just hours before he takes the stage for his 15th show at RodeoHouston on Saturday, March 18, Brad Paisley was inducted into the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s Star Trail of Fame.
The guitar picker joined the likes of Brooks & Dunn, Reba, Charley Pride, Elvis Presley, Gene Autry (the first performer ever), Roy Rogers, Alan Jackson, George Strait and Selena.
Unless you’re a certified rodeo rat like me and have spent years stalking the halls of the NRG Center Missions, you’ve probably never seen this wall of gold plaques, located on the second floor of the NRG Center outside the HLSR offices.
Paisley’s star is the tenth on the wall, hanging next to Selena. On Saturday, he spoke briefly during an unveiling ceremony organized by the HLSR organizers.
“There’s nothing like this in the world,” Paisley told the assembled Houston press and rodeo brass Saturday afternoon. “You guys get it.”
It is an honor reserved for the athletes who have left a clear mark on the event. For some, like Reba and Strait, it’s about longevity and universal appeal. While Selena (1993, 1994, 1995) and Elvis Presley (1970, 1974) only appeared at the rodeo a handful of times, their performances have grown into sacred cultural milestones for two distinct demographics.
In Houston, you can age a native by who they first saw at the rodeo, like cowboy cosplay carbo dating. It doesn’t take long into a casual conversation about the rodeo without someone bragging about who they saw first.
Not unlike vegans, it won’t be long before someone regales you with stories of seeing Elvis’ name on the Dome’s exploding scoreboard, or seeing Selena’s famous outfit in vivid color at Diamond Vision from the cheap seats. For me, it was being four years old and Strait showing off some of his oceanfront property in 1987.
Paisley’s rodeo stops have always been respites, nights to stretch and enjoy the scenery, like an industry night for the rodeo season. He has performed at every RodeoHouston held since 2014, and without COVID changing the world’s plans, Saturday night’s matinee would have been his 17th show.
I have never heard anyone say an unkind word about a Paisley variant top. The rodeo’s star scene, regardless of repetition, feels like home to him. The member of the Grand Ole Opry and Guitar Hall of Fame could be the house artist at a year-round rodeo theme park and no one would bat an eye.
He has grown into an ambassador for a softer, comedic side of modern country music that is always needed. Contrasted with the tight, modern hat acts, the stricter indie-tinged traditionalists and the rap lyrics. Paisley is the guy who plays the hits, shows off his picking fingers and has a beer with everyone in the room. No one else in this year’s rodeo lineup other than Paisley has recorded a song with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, either.
On Saturday night, Paisley brought the heat from the plaque that was unveiled on stage in front of a sold-out matinee crowd. “River Bank” started with Paisley’s slashing riverbilly guitar up front.
It took just three songs for Paisley to make his first tour on the dirt for “Perfect Storm,” which morphed into a cover of “The Love Boat” TV theme song as Paisley took a victory lap on the west side of the stadium. Of course, “Water” was the next song.
Music videos have always been Paisley’s creative multimedia jam, and he made sure to sprinkle some gems from his videography into the set and screens. “Waitin’ On a Woman” featured the requisite posthumous cameo from Andy Griffith from the music video. For “Celebrity,” Paisley’s own mascot from the industry-defying viral video made a minor cameo in the bucket seats.
For a foggy mountain jam, Paisley and his band members brought instruments that can go mobile with him on the field for a road trip.
“You’re such a beautiful mix of Budweiser, cow shit, and Brut Cologne,” Paisley told the crowd as “I’m Still A Guy” worked its way into the set list.
Paisley stole a fan’s phone for a spell and began playing on Aurora Fernandez Sordelli’s Instagram account, studying social media and criticizing her profile. It made perfect sense for US Congressman Dan Crenshaw to sit on “American Saturday Night”, playing the tambourine more than a little off beat.
“The Brad Paisley Variety Hour has been a certified hit for 15 rodeo seasons and hopefully we are just at the beginning of the run.
The river bank
The Literal Love Boat theme
Waiting for a woman
Last time for everything
I’m still a guy
This is country music
American Saturday Night (with Dan Crenshaw on tambourine)
She is everything