Cody Johnson brought Texas country to the big Houston Rodeo stage. (Photo courtesy Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo)
Cody Johnson tipped his hat to the Houston crowd. (Photo courtesy Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo)
Cody Johnson's voice stood out over the Rodeo Houston theatrics. (Photo courtesy Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo)
Cody Johnson is now a full-fledged country superstar. (Photo courtesy Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo)
I’ll never forget one warm July night several years ago hearing a country performer introduce himself to the crowd at the small dance hall nestled in the Texas Hill Country. I vividly remember thinking to myself at Crider’s, “I think I’ve actually heard of this guy. I think he’s becoming popular.”
Yet I have to admit that, though I tried to remember his name, all I could remember was that his first name started with a C and his last name with a J. Funny, because I’m pretty sure that’s who just performed at the Houston Rodeo.
Johnson has come a long way over the past 10 years. And his beloved fans have followed him all the way. The crowd’s enthusiasm for the Texas artist was palpable Friday night as the country singer took the big Rodeo Houston star stage and lead with his hit “With You I Am.” A massive horde of 73,009 roared with excitement and sang along to every word.
It was clear from the beginning of the evening that Johnson felt at home. And there was no mistaking his humble pride as he stole glimpses of the large Texas crowd that came to see their hometown hero. The Huntsville native has kept Texas country music alive. And Texans are loving it.
Johnson took the grandeur of the Rodeo Houston stage and seemed to scale it down to Gruene Hall proportions. Sure, he may have stood on a giant, rotating Texas-star stage and been lifted in the air with a hydraulic system on the spikes of the star – but if you closed your eyes, you could hear the simple authenticity.
After wrapping up the song “Noise” from his new album Ain’t Nothin’ to It, he yelled, “After this, we’re not slowing down. Would you like to take a ride, Houston, Texas?”
Cue the fiddle and toe-tappin’ song “Ride With Me.” And lots of yelling.
Obviously, yes. Yes, we want to take a ride with you, CoJo.
But what really brought the crowd to its feet was Cody Johnson’s recognition of all police officers, first responders, and military men and women in the stands.
“Let’s get the lights up,” he said. As he listed off each civil servant, he had them raise their hands to be seen. He continued, “I don’t care who you voted for, and I don’t care whether you’re left, right, or center. We’re all Americans, and tonight, I want to honor those men and women who have their hands in the air.”
The crowd goes wild. And he proceeds to honor them with the song Cowboys Like Me. You could say it was a first responder serenade.
Johnson continued his performance with classic hits, like “Me and My Kind,” intermixed with newer songs, like “Nothin’ on You, Y’all People” (specially recognizing all those who consider themselves part of “CoJo Nation”), and his popular single “On My Way to You” (which he dedicated to Houston for supporting him in his career).
But no song quite gave a glimpse into Johnson’s past as his song “Doubt Me Now.”
Johnson recounted how many along his musical journey told him his Texas country sound wouldn’t survive outside the Lone Star State.
“I am living proof that you should step outside your box no matter how many people tell you no – and chase your dreams,” he told his crowd.
How about that for inspiration?
A True Texas Goodbye
To end the evening, Johnson paid a tribute to all things rodeo with “Dear Rodeo.” He performed the song at last year’s Rodeo, but he admitted on stage Friday night that he wasn’t even sure he was making an album when he wrote the song.
“I just knew it was a song that I felt passionate about,” he said.
I’m not certain as to why my emotions were running wild with this song. Maybe it’s because the Houston Rodeo is my favorite time of year. Or because Cody Johnson knows how special it is to perform at the Rodeo. Or maybe because there was old, black-and-white Rodeo footage playing as a montage while he performed the song.
But as if that wasn’t enough to get your eyes teary and your heart throbbing, how about seeing cowboy-turned-singer riding out not in the classic Ford truck, but instead on a horse? As he majestically rode the galloping horse around NRG and saluted his adoring fans with his cowboy hat, Johnson only proved himself as a true Texas talent with true Texas roots.