Chris Stapleton performs at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, at NRG Park, Thursday, March 9, 2017, in Houston. ( Karen Warren / Houston Chronicle )
Sweaty soul pours out of Chris Stapleton
By Joey Guerra
Updated 11:27 pm, Thursday, March 9, 2017
The moment Chris Stapleton tore into "I Was Wrong" Thursday night inside NRG Stadium, you could almost feel RodeoHouston shift into the next gear.
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But Stapleton was something different, a dynamic mix of style, genres and star power. It set a sky-high bar for the rest of the month's shows.
"I Was Wrong" boiled over with a sweaty soul, pouring out of Stapleton and his band like hot wax. It was the kind of thing that makes you close your eyes, tap your foot and settle into a mean frown.
He shared gorgeous harmonies with wife Morgane Hayes during "You Are My Sunshine," turning the song into an aching plea.
Every moment mattered on that stage. The southern rock snarl of "Midnight Train to Memphis" (recorded with his old band The SteelDrivers). The searing interplay between band members during "Outlaw State of Mind." The sweet and wistful melody of radio hit "Traveler."
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Stapleton opened with a bit of "Houston" by Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers Band, which gave way to his own "Nobody to Blame." The screens behind him flickered with an American flag and a bald eagle.
"Unbelievable. I've never seen anything like this in my life," he said to the crowd of 72,803.
He debuted a jangly new song, "The Second One to Know," from a new album due in May. It was the first time he'd performed it live. Set closer "Tennessee Whiskey," of course, was a crowd favorite.
Beyond the whiskey-soaked voice and powerful lyrics, what stood out about Stapleton was his sincerity. He seemed genuinely humbled by the size and reaction of the crowd.
He said that the first time a crowd sang a song back to him was in Houston.
"Was it Warehouse Live?" he asked, referencing a 2015 show. "It almost knocked us down it was so powerful to hear people singing the songs that we were playing."
That song was "Fire Away," and when Stapleton sang it Thursday, he asked the crowd to hold up their phones and sing along. The stadium lit up and was filled with voices.
"Y'all gon' make me cry now," he said. "I love you so much."
Texas singer keeps it country at RodeoHouston's Armed Forces Appreciation Day
By Joey Guerra
Rodeo replacement makes the most of his opportunity
Cody Johnson said he'd waited his entire life to play the RodeoHouston stage. But it wasn't supposed to happen this year.
Johnson was a last-minute replacement for Old Dominion, who dropped out Monday because of a death in a band member's family.
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The former rodeo rider and prison guard made the most of the opportunity and turned NRG Stadium into the world's biggest Texas honky tonk.
Following Aaron Watson's solid Tuesday show, it was a Texas country double play.
Wednesday was also Armed Forces Appreciation Day, and several military personnel in uniform were peppered throughout the audience. Johnson took time to salute them and first responders.
"I honestly don't care who you voted for. We still live in the greatest country in the entire world," he said.
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Johnson was born in Sebastapol, a speck on the eastern shore of the Trinity River, and grew up in Huntsville. He's made a name for himself throughout Texas on the strength of a traditional sound.
"Do you still believe in country music?" he asked the crowd of 60,011. Cue the roars of approval.
Johnson's sixth album, "Gotta Be Me," was released in August and continued to expand his sound far beyond Texas borders. It debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's Country Albums chart and at No. 11 on the all-genre Billboard 200.
He has a raspy mumble of a voice that at times echoed George Jones. It adds a layer of sincerity to his songs, including "I Ain't Going Nowhere Baby," "Ride With Me" and "The Only One I Know (Cowboy Life)."
He was backed by a tight band of Texans who seemed equally excited to be there.
The wry word play of "Grass Stains" and "Me and My Kind" could be radio hits for Brad Paisley. But the Lone Star singalong Johnson inspired during "Texas Kind of Way" was entirely his own