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Culture / Entertainment

Houston’s Harvey First Responders Become the Surprise Stars at Rascal Flatts’ Rodeo Show

The Most Emotional and Heartfelt Concert Ever?

BY // 03.06.18

In the past year, Houston has suffered more than words can express. Action is what got Houston through Hurricane Harvey. Recovery is underway, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the first people taking action.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo honored their service with First Responders Day on Monday.

The Rodeo commended the tireless work of Houston area firefighters, police officers, EMS and more.

John Minge, president of BP America, the night’s sponsor, credited Houston’s first responders with inspiring #HoustonStrong. “First responders set the tone. They showed Houston how to show how to help people,” Minge said.

The praise didn’t stop there — but it did get a little lighter. The responders deserve recognition for all they have done, and they might even have already won an award. Sort of.

“Also, I’d like to give them credit for the Houston Astros winning the World Series,” Minge laughed. The first responders had shown the whole city how to step up, Astros players included, in Minge’s analysis. It was that kind of night.

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The lights went low, and silence fell across the RodeoHouston audience for a moment of remembrance. An announcer read the names of first responders who had lost their lives. The mood was solemn, shot through with the occasional whoop or cheer from loved ones in the audience. It was comforting, hearing that sincere celebration in a moment that sobering.

“Bless you for your bravery. Bless you for your commitment. Bless you at this rodeo,” the announcer said.

Then, country-pop crossover trio Rascal Flatts took the stage. Gary LeVox was clapping, ready to pump up the crowd. But there was still a bit of chill, something weighty in the air.

“You feel like a candle in a hurricane,” LeVox sang out, the first words of “Stand.” Videos from Hurricane Harvey played across the stage screens.

By the time he reached the chorus, “but when push comes to shove,” first responders came pouring in from the far end of NRG Stadium.

The crowd leapt to their feet. Responders from the police department, the fire department, the U.S. Army and more walked through the opening to form a circle around the stage. Some waved, others stood tall and firm.

“You get mad you get strong. Wipe your hands, shake it off. Then you stand, you stand,” LeVox sang out, pitch-perfect.

RodeoHouston concerts have been going on every night for almost a week. But no performer so far could compete with the sheer volume, the cheers, the applause, that Houston had for its first responders. Not even Garth Brooks on opening night. And this Monday brought a crowd of just more than 58,000, compared to Brooks’ sold-out mega show.

They responders slowly left the stadium as the song came to an end. The crowd stood, clapping for them until the last one had gone.

Rascal Flatts fed off of that intensity, breaking into “Bob that Head” and transitioning seamlessly into “Yours If You Want It.” The band is known for being an upbeat, high-energy country act with addictive lyrics. It was honestly hard not to bob that head along.

The band built on that momentum, but carved out time to drive home the importance of the evening. Bassist Jay DeMarcus came forward after the third song. He began plainly enough with “Houston, how are you doing tonight?” Then he moved into the bigger picture.

“Before we are Republicans, before we are Democrats, we are Americans,” he said. It is our duty, now more than ever, to be kind toward one another, to start standing up for what we believe in, he added. And if we can’t do it on our own, “it’s time to look at the man upstairs a little more.”

He didn’t stick with the gravitas for too long. DeMarcus shifted back into stadium show mode with “If you’re with me, say Hell Yeah!” Hell Yeah, they were.

Rascal Flats’ stage presence swelled. It was like they had kicked it into high gear. It was time to perform.

LeVox belted out a ballad next. “Here Comes Goodbye” struck a chord with many. Couples and clusters of fans leaned into each other, singing the lyrics, their voices growing stronger with each “Here in my arms tonight.” Toward the end of the song, you could tell LeVox was taking some artistic license. He finished the hit off with the same approach often deployed by American Idol hopefuls.

He stretched out the word “goodbye” several times over just to have his voice climb and fall over as many notes as possible. A bit much? Yes. But it worked.

Racal Flatts Doesn’t Want to Leave

Rascal Flatts took things to the next level with “I Like The Sound of That.” The whole stadium sang along, finishing the lyrics on their own when LeVox pointed the mic to the crowd. “Come on over,” the voices roared. They liked the sound of that.

LeVox took a pause to thank first responders for they heart, courage and heroism. He dedicated the next song, “Fast Cars and Freedom” to them, and “to everybody in this building.” It was only the eighth song of the night but it was finale-worthy. Talk about ending on a high note. Or maybe not.

The energy on stage and off was at an all-time high. It was only 9:45, but Rascal Flatts was in an up-tempo frenzy and the crowd was clapping like crazy. It felt next level.

But they didn’t stop there. They couldn’t have, really, without “What Hurts The Most.” When the opening chords played, there weren’t cheers. Screams, literal screams, erupted from the crowd. High-pitched and shrill, but understandable for diehard fans. It’s a heartbreak anthem.

The two words “never knowing” were sung at high octaves, high volume, and with high frequency. The crowd wasn’t content to sing along every few words. They wanted to nail every single one.

When the chorus came around, LeVox would stop singing and aim the mic to the crowd. The full force of thousands and thousands responded with “Being so close,” a plaintive refrain verging on stalker-y with that many voices behind it.

Once again, that could have been the last song of the night and fans would have gone home happy. But Rascal Flatts just didn’t stop. It was three more songs until the end, including a heartfelt “God Bless The Broken Road.” The guitarist opened that one.

Cellphones shone across the stadium. LeVox put more trust in the crowd than ever before, surrendering the vocals for the entirety of “God bless the broken road that led me straight to you.” It was a risky move, but it paid off.

There’s no question that the song is spiritual. But on that stage, it became a prayer. “First responders, we thank you for blessing a lot of people’s broken roads,” LeVox sang. He praised the Lord for blessing everyone’s broken roads. A brief call and refrain followed, “Thank you and Amen!” “Amen!”

That, too, felt like a strong place to end. Some people actually got up out of their seats and into the aisle before realizing there was one more, and turning back around. The next song was the last: a mashup “Banjo” and the one we’d all been waiting for, Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is A Highway.”

The audience finished the concert the way they had started it: On their feet.

Home, chic home.

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