15 years ago RodeoHouston left the Astrodome for NRG Stadium

Photo: Karl Stolleis/HOUSTON CHRONICLE

 

George Strait provided the music, naturally

By Craig Hlavaty, Chron.com / Houston Chronicle

Gianna Rodriguez, and her boyfriend, Ed Pawlik, of Dallas, enjoy the last of the Astrodome, as people began filing out after the George Strait concert, at the Reliant Astrodome Sunday night, March 3, 2002. 

This week in 2002, the Astrodome officially said goodbye to RodeoHouston as country star George Strait played his last show in the Eighth Wonder of the World and the event prepared to move next door into NRG Stadium, then still under construction and called Reliant Stadium. 

A few months later the 750,000 square-foot Astrohall, built in 1966, was demolished to make way for more NRG parking. It had been built by the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and used as exhibition space. You probably went to a few car shows inside it too. These days tailgaters party where the hall once stood. 

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In 2003 the 71st edition of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was held inside the stadium and the adjacent 1.4 million-square-foot NRG Center, built to replace the Astrohall. Rodeo brass had already moved into the second-floor office space of the convention hall months before the stadium opened.

George Strait performs during the last Rodeo concert at the Astrodome, Sunday night, March 3, 2002. 

The Houston Texans football team played their first home game inside the new stadium on August 24, 2002, losing to the Miami Dolphins in pre-season action.

The final RodeoHouston lineup inside the Dome for the 2002 season was made up of Bob Dylan, the Dixie Chicks, Neil Diamond, REO Speedwagon, Mary J. Blige, Lyle Lovett and Destiny’s Child. Marquee country acts like Willie Nelson, Clint Black, Pat Green, Kenny Chesney, Clay Walker, Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson and Strait rounded out the lineup on the revolving stage. 

A little-known Australian country singer named Keith Urban played inside the smaller Hideout venue that final year, followed just a few days later by Blake Shelton, years before he met Miranda Lambert or even Gwen Stefani for that matter. 

FLASHBACK PHOTOS: The 1965 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo inside the Sam Houston Coliseum

The rodeo had first moved into the Astrodome in 1966, a move that wildly expanded the capabilities of the show from its former home at the Sam Houston Coliseum across town.

“We got to the point where we weren’t able to have the chicken, rabbit or hog shows because there was simply no more room,” show president H. Stuart Lang Jr. told a reporter in 2002. He presided over the show from 1963 until 1966.

Sam Thompson gets a closer view of the grand entry with his binnoculars while at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Thursday, February 21, 2002 at the Reliant Astrodome. 

Lang said this became apparent to show runners as early as 1962.

“We couldn’t even hold the horse show on the grounds because there wasn’t enough space,” he said. “We held activities outside in tents and were losing many exhibitors. We knew if we didn’t do something soon, the show wouldn’t make it.”

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Luckily Judge Roy Hofheinz offered the rodeo a home inside the Astrodome and the last rodeo at the coliseum was held in 1965. Many people thought the show wouldn’t last inside a building as massive as the Astrodome and that it couldn’t possibly fill its 45,000 seats.

They were all wrong.

The 34th annual show kicked off on Feb. 23, 1966 with some guys from TV hit “Gunsmoke” entertaining fans onstage. In honor of the new digs, the rodeo staff debuted a new logo, the “Bowlegged H,” that has become an icon around rodeo season. This was also the first year that committee members got gold badges for volunteer service.

 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Country music star George Strait will honor singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale with a lifetime achievement award at this year's Americana Honors and Awards Show, to be held Sept. 21 in Nashville. Strait has recorded more than a dozen of Lauderdale's songs. He will present him with the Wagonmaster Award, named for country music icon Porter Wagoner, it was announced Friday. Lauderdale has been host of the annual awards show for the last 14 years. He was named artist of the year at the first Americana Honors and Awards Show in 2002. __ Online: www.americanamusic.org

Media: WochIt Media

By the end of the 1966 season everyone from fans to critics alike were lauding the move into the Astrodome. Jimmy Dean packed 40,000 people into the seats on a Friday night and there was a large number of international visitors that year in attendance.

And so the rodeo's home was the Dome for 37 years until George Strait rode off after playing "The Cowboy Rides Away" on March 3, 2002 in front of more than 68,000 fans. 

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Strait's closing night show was recorded for a live album "For the Last Time: Live from the Astrodome" and featured sixteen cuts from that performance. It was Strait's first official live album.

The day before Strait's final rodeo concert there was a bill dubbed "Legends of RodeoHouston" featuring Mac Davis, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Naomi Judd and Charley Pride, bringing back memories of the show's old '70s lineups.

Strait returned to town the next year to play the first RodeoHouston concert at NRG Stadium on Feb. 25, 2003. He last played the venue in 2013 during his final concert tour.