Concert Review: Alan Jackson's 23rd Rodeo Gig Definitely Turns On the Charm

Monday, March 13, 2017 at 5 a.m.
By Clint Hale -

Alan Jackson might very well be the ideal RodeoHouston entertainer. He has hits for days, widespread appeal and is widely regarded among the country greats over the past 30 years. That might explain why Jackson took the stage at NRG Stadium on Saturday night for his 23rd(!!) RodeoHouston performance before an announced paid attendance of 74,259.

Jackson doesn’t take the rodeo stage to try and expand his fanbase while making a name for himself; that happened years ago. He isn’t pimping new material or “playing some of the new stuff” — he hasn’t even released new material in a couple of years. Rather, Jackson delivered exactly what RodeoHouston crowds anticipate — an hour of hits, stories and one of the most comfortable, lived-in performances (this is a compliment) this year’s rodeo lineup will deliver.

Jackson took the stage a little before 6 p.m. on Saturday night, right after Mutton Bustin’, which may very well be the most adorable thing ever. He and his band, the Strayhorns, kicked things off right with “Gone Country,” one of the Jackson’s biggest hits and an ideal rodeo tune. He followed that up with an autobiographical tale, “Livin’ on Love,” which details a couple’s roots from humble beginnings to a love that lasts for decades (Jackson dedicated the song to his wife).

With his trademark cowboy hat in tow, Jackson ripped through a 14-song, hour-long set that featured mostly hits. Whether up-tempo favorites like “Little Bitty” or slower fare like “Here in the Real World,” Jackson and the Strayhorns – many of whom have been with him for decades – were in-sync for the entirety of a performance that peaked at just the right times.

For instance, just as the crowd began settling in, Jackson and the band cranked up “Drive (for Daddy Gene),” which many consider the crooner’s finest tune, one dedicated to his late father. He slowed it down from there and segued into the poignant September 11 tribute, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” which easily ranks among the most heartfelt and definitive 9/11 tracks.

The hits only continued from there, from “Neon Rainbow” to “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” and “Remember When.” These are all good, popular songs, but what makes them special is that each comes with its own story. “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” traces the band’s origins in its own why, while “Remember When” somehow sums up the circle of life in less than five minutes. “Neon Rainbow,” meanwhile, details how a radio that Jackson’s father won paved the way for one of the most successful careers in the annals of country music.

So, yeah, Jackson’s set was filled with stories and poignant moments. But it was still a country show, which means good-timing tunes and honky-tonk classics. Jackson closed with the Jimmy Buffett collaboration, “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere” (no Buffett cameo on this particular Saturday night), “Chattahoochee” and “Where I Come From.” Those three singles were, based on the crowd reaction, pretty much the three tracks you’d roll out on.

I’ve always considered Jackson underrated, inasmuch as someone with platinum records and CMA Awards aplenty can be considered underrated. The man really can do anything — crank it up, turn it down, sing about downing hurricanes but also provide perspective on love, loss and tragedy. To make a sports analogy, he’s a five-tool player. He may not entertain quite like peak-era Garth Brooks, be as gritty as Hank Williams Jr. or possess quite the “aw shucks” persona of George Strait, but he does each well, which is an impressive feat.

Plus, he somehow still pulls off a moustache, which is certainly worth a tip of the cowboy hat.