Rodeo Man: Houston Livestock Show And Rodeo’s Jason Kane Talks Growth, Musical Diversity

Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s Jason Kane

Since 1932, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has welcomed a multi-faceted array of iconic performers. Elvis, The Jackson 5 (featuring a young Michael Jackson), Sonny & Cher, Tejano star Selena, Tony Bennett, Beyonce, Justin Bieber, as well as country legends Eddie Arnold, Gene Autry, Garth Brooks, Johnny Cash, Alan Jackson, Dolly Parton, George Strait, and more have performed at the long-running event, making the wide breadth of musical styles a hallmark of the annual event.

This year’s event, which runs March 7-26 at Houston’s NRG Park, features not only country artists including Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Sam Hunt, Alan Jackson, Cody Johnson, Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley, Chris Stapleton, Aaron Watson, Chris Young, and Zac Brown Band, but also pop, rock, and R&B artists including Blink-182, The Chainsmokers, Alicia Keys, and Demi Lovato.

“That’s always been part of the heritage here,” says Jason Kane, Managing Director of Entertainment & Market Research at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. “We cater to an audience that is 8-80. It’s always been that way, because it is a community icon. And it’s unfortunate but there are fewer and fewer of these mass events. I was just thinking that Ringling Bros. is about to close. Our show occupies a unique space in this community.”

Kane is responsible for all aspects of talent buying, as well as production of all concert events. During Kane’s tenure, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has accomplished record setting years including the show’s all-time record attendance in 2014 and 2015. Over three weeks the general attendance topped 2.5 million, while ticket sales reached $1.4 million.

George Strait performs at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in 2013. Photo: Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

Kane joined the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in 2006, a year that included an opening performance from country icon George Strait.

“It was magic,” Kane recalls. “The fun part was, George came onstage and does what he does. People say he doesn’t move much, and I say, ‘Neither did Sinatra.’ Being that he is a true cowboy, he got on a horse, loped around the arena, shaking hands with people that were seated on the edge of the arena. He went to the middle of the arena, reared the horse back and threw his hat in the crowd. I was standing next to a rep from his label, and he leaned over and said, ‘Well, people in Minneapolis ain’t going to see that!’”

Prior to joining the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in 2006, Kane was the Regional Vice President and Director of Operations at Clear Channel Radio, served as President of Star System in Austin, Texas and worked with The Research Group in Seattle, Washington, as Senior Vice President and Partner.

Elvis Presley performs at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Photo: Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

He says his time in radio and research has benefited his work with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

“Part of a radio career is you are in producing small or even being involved in larger live events and I always loved that part,” Kane says. “My experience in research really kind of gave me some insight into what consumers and fans really expected. And in terms of live events, there is nothing like having a crowd go crazy over something you’ve put together.”

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo runs from March 7 through March 28, totaling approximately 100 shows in a three-week period.

“It is almost a programming job, in that you are trying to find the right artists for the right day, given the amount of people that attend on a weekend versus a weekday. In radio you are looking for that perfect song to accent a certain point in the hour. Here you are looking for that perfect artist to really highlight a certain date in a three-week calendar.”

George Strait at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Photo: Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

Kane and production manager Brittany Cooke lead the booking of the shows, though “we accordion this up to about 75 people at show time,” says Kane. They are already beginning the process for booking the 2018 show, and in some cases work two years ahead to book artists.

At NRG Park, an artist can play to approximately 71,000 people, with the help of 19 HD cameras, as well as eight high-definition cameras above the stage.

“NRG stadium is a big room and I found that one of two things happens,” says Kane. “The artist either shrinks the room, or the room shrinks them. In some ways it can almost be a TV show. Many artists get it and they play to the camera and deliver a dynamic performance.” He notes the massive stage and audience numbers adds another facet to selecting the proper newcomer artists. “Many of the new folks have not been out long enough to have really perfected that stage presence. Now some of them get it and are naturals.”

As the country festival scene continues to expand, Kane says the increased competition for artists has driven up performance fees. “There were 63 country-only festivals going between May and November last year,” Kane says. “The effect is that it has absolutely ratcheted up the prices on country acts. In country music, at any given time, there are only about seven people at the top of the pyramid. Everybody wants one, two or three of those seven to headline their festival. And the festivals will want to write very stringent radius clauses into their agreements, which jacks up the price. We are lucky that our event occurs in March as opposed to the middle of June. The number of festivals has definitely skyrocketed the prices to a point where a 501C3 charity has got to back out sometimes, because the price gets too high.”

Kane’s favorite aspect of working with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is its charity, which committed $26 million in charitable contributions for 2017. “We support not only college scholarship for Texas students but other educational efforts, education of teachers, and more. The event’s mission is really supported in an amazing way by Houston and the surrounding area.”


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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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