Billboards around town for Rodeo Austin, which begins its annual two-week run just east of town next weekend, are promoting the event with the catchphrase, “Where Weird Meets Western.” That’s a fitting description of the range of musical acts booked for this year’s event, which busts out from straight-and-narrow country into R&B, classic pop, indie rock and more.
Of course, nothing embodies weirdness and the wild west more than Willie Nelson & Family, which makes them the perfect act to open the rodeo fortnight. They’ll play at 7 p.m. March 14 at Luedecke Arena on the fairgrounds, playing for an hour after two hours of ProRodeo action. (Tickets run $20 to $175 at rodeoaustin.com.)
March is looking busy for Willie, who hosts his annual Heartbreaker Banquet benefiting the SIMS Foundation at his ranch in the Hill Country town of Luck on March 19 (tickets are on sale for $50 at heartbreaker.preferredfan.com). Things will be busier than usual out there this spring, as Nelson is also starring alongside British actress Charlotte Rampling in “Waiting for the Miracle to Come,” a movie being shot at the ranch in March.
Meanwhile, back at the rodeo: Following Willie on March 15 is another western hero, singer-songwriter and actor-director Dwight Yoakam. Originally from Kentucky, Yoakam rose to prominence in California, first with pioneering 1980s albums such as “Hillbilly Deluxe” and later for a memorable supporting role in Billy Bob Thornton’s “Sling Blade.”
In 2012, University of Texas Press published “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere,” a Yoakam biography by former American-Statesman writer Don McLeese. Next month, Yoakam will release “Second Hand Heart,” his 14th studio album.
March 16 brings the return of the Eli Young Band, the Denton group that was one of last year’s hottest rodeo tickets fresh off the release of their album “10,000 Towns.” As country-rock crossover acts go, the band led by Mike Eli and James Young stays enough on the country side to stick on the western side of the rodeo line.
And then things start to get weird: Get ready for the world’s biggest Irish Disco Rodeo throwdown when theatrical rock band Panic! at the Disco follows the bulls and broncs on St. Patrick’s Day. A modern sensation since their punk-pop song “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” hit the top 10 in 2006, the Las Vegas band is so weird that their most recent album is called “Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!”
The appearance by the Beach Boys on March 18 might qualify as western given the group’s quintessentially Californian songs. But we’ll file this one under weird simply because it’s hard to tell just what Beach Boys lineup will appear, given that mastermind member Brian Wilson is no longer involved.
The next three nights swing back toward western, or at the very least country, with Texas roadhouse favorites the Randy Rogers Band, Nashville hitmaker Joe Nichols and Oklahoma rising stars Turnpike Troubadours playing March 19-21. Judging from a rowdy, crowd-pleasing performance at last fall’s Austin City Limits Music Festival, the Turnpike Troubadours may be the biggest pick to click out of this batch.
March 22 brings an auspicious pairing of Lorrie Morgan and Pam Tillis, which shouldn’t qualify as weird except that a pairing of two women artists sticks out as unusual in a Rodeo Austin lineup that leans heavily toward men. The two teamed up in 2013 for an album titled “Dos Divas”; Tillis also has enjoyed a bit of a revival through recent appearances on the ABC hit series “Nashville.”
A quick stop on March 23 with relative country newcomer Tyler Farr gives way to more rodeo weirdness on March 24 and 25 when R&B group Boyz II Men and dub-rockers Sublime With Rome arrive. Though it’s been awhile since Boyz II Men’s early-’90s ballad-heavy heyday, the group returned last fall with “Collide,” its first album in three years. Sublime With Rome features two members of ska band Sublime plus guitarist Rome Ramirez, playing a repertoire that consists mostly of Sublime tunes.
The only other female act on the schedule follows, as Martina McBride brings the tour for her new album “Everlasting,” an intriguing collection of classic soul and R&B covers, to the rodeo on March 26. From there, it’s a non-weird coast to the finish line with Lee Brice, supporting his new Curb Records disc “I Don’t Dance,” on March 27, followed by Austin’s Kevin Fowler providing the rodeo with hometown bookends on March 28.
Rodeo Austin music
When: Shows at 7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, March 14-28
Where: Luedecke Arena, 9100 Decker Lake Road