Willie Nelson and other Houston Rodeo concerts on tape

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Willie Nelson performed at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in 1984-1986, ’88, ’94, 2000, ’02, ’04.

He also performed with The Highwaymen in 1990 and 1992.

www.houstonchronicle.com
by: Craig Hlavaty

Inside NRG Center, a 5,500-square-foot studio handles all the video operations for RodeoHouston. And it contains two astounding video vaults.

The massive video library dates back to the late ’70s, said James Davidson, the managing director of the Rodeo’s audiovisual presentations and broadcasts. It contains not just the Rodeo’s musical performances, but also the auctions, livestock shows, rodeo competitions.

But it’s the concerts that are most tantalizing. They’re like time capsules for their decades: Mega-stars, one-hit wonders, comedians, you name it. Pop. Rock. Country. Tejano.

Consider just some of the names that would make classic-country music fans fall to their knees:

Donna Fargo. Merle Haggard. Emmylou Harris. Loretta Lynn. Barbara Mandrell. Charley Pride. George Strait. Willie Nelson.

But those performances lie archived and dormant, the concerts unseen by fans, because the Rodeo doesn’t own full intellectual property rights to the performances. RodeoHouston can use 30-second clips to promote itself, but without the artists’s permission, it can’t release, say, Reba’s full concert performance from 1987.

Will those performances ever be available? Davidson says that the rodeo’s video collection could lend itself to a “Wolfgang’s Vault”-type operation — but only if someone did the legwork to obtain the copyright and permissions.

Rex, a red Brahman bull that was 2014’s Inter-national Reserve Grand Champion, can supply breeders with his semen to sire offspring. Rodeo Houston is a marketplace for decades-old practice Guests pose for a photo before the John Legend concert at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Friday, March 6, 2015, in Houston. Oscar winner Legend back for another rodeo ride Rex’s photo, from Buford Cattle Company’s Facebook page.

Looking for Mr. Goodbull Cowboy Yance Day rides a bucking bronco in the championship round of super series I at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo on March 5, 2015. Bucking broncs get primal on RodeoHouston riders Newly hatched baby chickens at the Agventure center at RodeoHouston 2015. Is this RodeoHouston baby chicken giving you the stink eye?

To date, no attempt to do so has gotten far. “When they start digging into it,” says Davidson, “it proves to be such a monumental task to obtain all the rights. Management has changed, the artist is no longer alive, or its owned by someone else and rights are hard to pin down.”

But the vaults aren’t the only fascinating thing about the Rodeo’s video operation. Video professionals are often surprised that the studio is in NRG Center, not right inside NRG Stadium. But with fiber optics the distance doesn’t matter, Davidson says. Operations are immediate

Davidson been with the show since 1998, when the Rodeo still took place in the Astrodome. In 2002, when the Rodeo moved to NRG Center, video operations moved from analog to digital. By 2010, everything was converted to full high-definition.

A team of 85 people handles video at RodeoHouston. When shows start at 6:45 p.m., crew call is at 3 p.m. Some sort of video production goes on every day at RodeoHouston, with livestock or horse shows starting at 8 a.m. During concerts, Mission Control buzzes with activity, just a few feet from Davidson’s office.

For George Strait’s final show in March 2013, Davidson says, the entire stadium had to be turned around, changing its usual configuration to add seating to the floor. That involves pulling all the dirt from the stadium and power-washing dust from the seats before putting in cameras and wiring.

The crew likes a challenge, he says. When acts like ZZ Top, Kid Rock, and KISS bring in pyro, it’s fun.

Acts such as Keith Urban and Tim McGraw who want to interact with fans need a team ready to follow them through the crowd. “The first time Tim McGraw played our stadium he didn’t sound check, and he got on the dirt during his show and was able to walk, sing, and shake hands during his set,” Davidson says. “That was impressive.”

Who are the easiest acts to work with?

“Martina McBride is very down-to-earth,” he says. “Keith Urban is great to work with.”

He says he can tell, though, that some artists won’t last long: They don’t behave well to the crew.

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