What if someone told you that Kenny Rogers, Dwight Yoakam, Elle King, Fitz & the Tantrums and Charley Pride would be here during South by Southwest — but none of them would be playing any SXSW shows? It’s like there’s a whole other rodeo in town.
That’s Rodeo Austin, to be specific. The annual event at the Travis County Exposition Center on the eastern edge of town doesn’t seem to suffer from overlapping with the city’s mammoth downtown festival-convention madness.
This year’s lineup features performances all of the aforementioned acts, and many more, including Patti Labelle, Josh Turner, the Randy Rogers Band, Neal McCoy, Cole Swindell, Cody Johnson, Chase Bryant, Old Dominion and Bobby Bones & the Raging Idiots.
One thing this year’s lineup doesn’t have is Willie Nelson, who’d played Rodeo Austin’s opening night the past three years but this time opted for a high-profile appearance at the San Antonio Rodeo in February instead. Still in place, however, is hometown country-rock mainstay Kevin Fowler’s role as the rodeo’s closer, on March 25.
The addition of Pride to this year’s lineup is significant. When the Country Music Hall of Famer came to Austin last year to be honored for his lifetime of work at the Ameripolitan Music Awards at the Paramount Theatre, it was his first trip here in a long time. (Pride said at the time that he couldn’t remember the last show he’d played in Austin; he taped “Austin City Limits” in 1981.) He sang a few songs at the Paramount that night, but Rodeo Austin attendees will get a full concert.
Pride’s appearance on the first Sunday of the rodeo’s run is part of an auspicious kickoff weekend. Yoakam, who played Rodeo Austin in 2015, is back this year to kick everything off on Saturday night. Yoakam is touring to support his 15th studio album, “Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars,” released last fall.
Following Yoakam and Pride on the rodeo’s first Monday night is King, one of a handful of non-country performers booked to help broaden the event’s appeal beyond its cowboy core. The Grammy-nominated rock and pop singer has crossed over into country, winning a Country Music Association award last year for a duet with Dierks Bentley.
Other acts stretching the genre boundaries of Rodeo Austin’s offerings include R&B singer LaBelle (March 22) and Los Angeles indie-pop band Fitz & the Tantrums (March 15), whose Austin ties include playing ACL Fest in 2014 and getting a record deal at SXSW in 2010.
But the rodeo’s bread and butter remains country music. Crossover superstar Kenny Rogers (March 19), who received the Texas Medal of the Arts at a University of Texas ceremony last month, might be Rodeo Austin’s biggest draw this year.
Other country offerings include regulars on the Texas roadhouse circuit such as Fowler, the Randy Rogers Band (March 17), Bryant (March 18), and Johnson (March 24), as well as Georgia upstart Swindell (March 14), 1990s hitmaker McCoy (March 20) and Nashville band Old Dominion (March 23). Combining country with comedy are Bobby Bones & the Raging Idiots (March 16), led by the on-air radio host.
[Note: The dates of the opening weekend’s concerts have been corrected in this article.]
When: March 11-25.
Where: Travis County Exposition Center, 7311 Decker Lane.
Full music schedule: Dwight Yoakam, March 11; Charley Pride, March 12; Elle King, March 13; Cole Swindell, March 14; Fitz & the Tantrums, March 15; Bobby Bones & the Raging Idiots, March 16; Randy Rogers Band, March 17; Chase Bryant, March 18; Kenny Rogers, March 19; Neal McCoy, March 20; Josh Turner, March 21; Patti LaBelle, March 22; Old Dominion, March 23; Cody Johnson, March 24; Kevin Fowler, March 25.