Culture / Entertainment

Zac Brown Band Gushes Over All of Houston’s “Pretty Girls” in a Rousing Rodeo Concert

Keeping Packed Stadium Waiting is Quickly Forgiven

BY // 03.13.18
photography Michelle Watson/CatchlightGroup.com

It’s possible for a crowd to get restless in under five seconds. That’s the lesson that kicked off Zac Brown Band’s Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo concert Monday night. More than 70,000 Houstonians hightailed it to NRG Stadium after work to fight off a case of the Mondays and enjoy a little Chicken Fried — or anything deep-fat fried.

Zac Brown Band had them covered, with their signature smashes and a handful of covers.

It was about 8:45 pm. The Mission Control graphics played on the massive screen hanging over the stage. The arms of the five-pointed star stage unfurled. Everything went black.

And stayed black.

It wasn’t ready, set go. The stage was front and center, but the band wasn’t quite yet. Small, focused pinpoints of flashlight beams dotted the dirt as Zac Brown Band members climbed onstage. You could say the crowd wanted to get things rolling.

The screams and cheers were encouraging, but a tad impatient. It felt like the Sweet Annie singers were taking their sweet time.

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Once aboard RodeoHouston’s triumph of technology and entertainment, the band tuned their instruments. It was a wholly necessary but prolonged act.

But flattery will get you anywhere. And that’s how Zac Brown himself said a big hello to Houston with the lyrics “How come all the pretty girls like you are taken?” The crowd hooted and hollered for “Keep Me In Mind.” The band was mighty in number and musical talent, taking up the whole stage physically and sonically.

That’s one of the first things you noticed. Three-time Grammy Award-winning Zac Brown Band is aces at harmony, skilled in synthesis. From the guitars to keyboards to drums to banjos, steel guitars and mandolins, Zac Brown Band’s musicians have a kind of chemistry you don’t see all that often.

The swirling, colorful background looked a little like digital paintball. “Come on, Houston!” Brown screamed. Houston shouted back its response, thousands of voices strong.

Sound faded out. The drummer began drumming ever so lightly, whispering “1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 4” as much as you can whisper with all those mics around. It was time for “Homegrown,” half professionally performed hit, half sing-a-long song.

“I got everything I need and nothin’ that I don’t” Brown sang. Houston shouted back “Homegrown!” each time.

Zac Brown may be a homegrown Georgia boy, but he looks like he gets performance-ready with the help of the hipster starter kit and some serious beard trimmers. Fashionable but retro hat? Check. Tattoo sleeve? Double check.

But he’s the polar opposite of your disaffected hipster. Brown’s a beaming singer and songwriter who moseys his way through crowd-pleasing tunes with charm. “Toes” was proof of that, a testament that “Life is good today.” By the time the second round of the chorus came around, Brown couldn’t swallow his laughter. He chuckled through “got my toes in the water, my ass in the sand.”

Houston started singing the mellow song in a major way. Brown had asked us to “Make it Texas big, y’all!” We hit the mark. “That’s a big Texas choir there, people. Thank you!”

The next song was equally appreciated but less engaging. It was the first deviation from original discography. The guitarist strutted down to one of the star’s tips, throwing himself into his instrument. Brown stuck to center stage, hands free except for his microphone.

The song? “Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon.

Zac Brown Band’s layered vocals added some new texture. Rock fans by the front were clapping and standing in their seats. The fiddle player and the guitarist faced off center stage, dueling up a frenzy. But if the crowed thought that cover was good, they hadn’t seen nothin’ yet.

Zac Brown Band rodeo 3
Fans went crazy for favorites like “Free” and “Sweet Annie.”

The crowd got caught up in “Sweet Annie” and drifted into it, swaying with the words. The fans clapped their way through “As She’s Walking Away,” making it clear that if she really were walking away, they’d be too busy bopping their heads and singing along to care.

Before “Free,” Brown praised The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s commitment to scholarships. “It’s amazing how much money they raise for Texas youth here. It’s unbelievable!” He said some songs can really capture the spirit. “Try to get lose in this one right now,” Brown said.

It started with a fiddle. As the music built, the crowd’s screams grew louder. The lights were soft. For once, there was no intense laser light show, no changing colors on the stadium video screens. It stayed static, then the smartphones came out.

“Free” was soulful and anything but sedate. There was full-scale swaying across the crowd, but onstage Brown was strumming with drama, turning a little circle. He shouted “No we don’t have a lot of money!” and the crowd shouted it right back. “Thank you!” he said at the end, grinning.

An Electric Zac Brown Band Moment

What happened next was a seamless segue, a Zac Brown Band original melding into a classic by The Eagles. It started innocently enough as “Colder Weather,” fans screaming as the first notes of the keyboard were played. They sang it word for word, faithfully, even when things started to shift.

The song almost drew to a natural close, and the crowd whistled. But then it picked back up, softly. Fans sang “all alone at the end of the evening.” It’s unclear if they were fully aware Brown had gone all in with “Take it to the Limit,” because many never stopped singing, didn’t miss a beat. Their brains may not have caught up to the rhythm. Brown ate it up. “We love you, Texas!”

Two songs later, and they were back at it with the antics. Only this time, there was no gentle wading into unfamiliar territory. It was Van Halen’s “Panama,” full-stop, sung by the duo of Brown and John Driskell Hopkins. Zac Brown Band is made up of elastic performers, able to spring into different styles at the drop of a hat. And they did, though we can’t imagine Brown without a hat on.

The night came to a close the way we all knew it would just 30 minutes in. Since “Chicken Fried” hadn’t played by that point, it could only mean they were saving it up for the finale. Singing, clapping, screaming, whistling, pronouncing “pecan pie” the way that half of the crowd must have felt was incorrect — you name it, we did it. Brown cheered for the “greatest country in the world, I don’t care what anyone says!”

It was a clutch send-off for Clutch City. Patriotism, a fair amount of fiddle and some strobe lights.

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