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Jackson smokes on Rodeo opening night

Houston Astrodome, Houston, Feb. 20, 1998

By Brian Wahlert

HOUSTON - This is expected to be somewhat of a down year for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Most importantly, country music - or what they call country music on the radio - isn't nearly as popular as it once was, and to make matters worse, the Rodeo failed to attract many of the top stars in a depleted talent pool.

For the first time in 15 years, George Strait won't be at the rodeo as he's embarking on a stadium festival tour. The Houston Chronicle reported Shania Twain, Deana Carter, and Garth Brooks, who will perform at Houston's Compaq Center in April, also turned down offers.

But on the Rodeo's opening night at least, any naysayers were proven wrong as a sell-out crowd of 54,355 witnessed yet another great Rodeo performance from Alan Jackson.

The concert started strangely. The Rodeo has a new laser light and fireworks show this year that runs between the chuck wagon races and the evening's concert, but just before that show finished, without any introduction, Jackson and his band started playing "Chattahoochee." The sound was faint and muffled, and few in the audience even realized the concert had begun until midway through the first verse when the volume increased.

In a venue notorious for poor sound, however, that was the only glitch. Often performers can't even hear themselves sing, but Jackson was in fine voice right from the beginning. Unlike in many concerts these days, when drums can drown out the singer, the sound mix let Jackson's voice shine through so that lyrics, sometimes hilarious, sometimes sentimental, but always simple and matter-of-fact, could be understood and appreciated by the audience.

Jackson proved that he's one of the few remaining true country singers on "Everything I Love," a great, hard-core country hurtin' song.

Jackson's passionate country voice was the focus on the gorgeous ballad "I'll Try," although he got great support from the fiddle, piano, and steel players. In fact, Jackson's band is one of the best hard-country bands in the business - they're serious about what they do, and they do it well.

Jackson explained to the audience that he wrote "Home" for his mom for Mothers' Day, and "there's just one place you can ever call home." The autobiographical song clearly still meant a lot to Jackson as a broad smile came over his face when he sang about his mechanic dad, who "never made the front page but he did the best he could. Folks drove their cars from miles around to let him look underneath the hood."

After "Between the Devil and Me," which came complete with cheesy flames superimposed over Jackson's image on the big screens in the Astrodome, Jackson introduced his "half-wired segment," which has become a staple of |his concerts over the past couple of years. In this part of the show, Jackson told the stories behind some of his songs and performed snippets of several old favorites. He talked about the John Wayne movie that inspired "Wanted" and played two other early hits, "Here in the Real World" and "Dallas." He also played snippets of two songs he wrote that were recorded by other artists: "If I Could Make a Livin'," a hit for Clay Walker, and "I Can't Do That Anymore," a Faith Hill hit.

He brought down the house with the segment's closer, "Seven Bridges Road," which he used to play in bars back in Georgia. In Jackson's hands, this song became a bluegrass rave-up with banjo and beautiful a cappella three-part harmonies at the beginning and end.

A hard rocking electric guitar solo broke up the half-wired segment before Jackson sang "Don't Rock the Jukebox" and "Little Bitty." A cool harmonica solo spiced up "Who's Cheatin' Who," and then Jackson played "Gone Country," his cynical song about the state of country music in the early part of this decade, when everyone flocked to Nashville to "try her hand" at becoming a country star.

There's nothing like traditional country music from Alan Jackson to start the Rodeo off on the right foot.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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