Stars align during National Finals Rodeo
Every year during the National Finals Rodeo, Las Vegas hosts an informal citywide country-music and comedy festival, with a variety of artists performing at venues large and small. These performances draw nearly as many people to Las Vegas as it does for championship competition, and this year’s lineup includes some of the biggest stars from the ’60s to now.
Reba, Brooks & Dunn (Dec. 5 & 8-10, Caesars Palace) Fresh off the news that Reba, Brooks & Dunn: Together in Vegas has been extended through August 2018, Reba McEntire, Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn will wrap their 2017 Colosseum dates on the first weekend of NFR. McEntire first joined Brooks & Dunn for the initial run of their Caesars Palace residency in 2015, with Brooks & Dunn reuniting for the first time in five years. The venue has become their Vegas performing home, with a 30-song set.
John Michael Montgomery (Dec. 7, Golden Nugget) In the ’90s, John Michael Montgomery was part of the wave of neo-traditionalist “hat acts” like Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson and Clint Black, delivering straightforward, listener-friendly country that appealed to longtime genre fans as well as pop listeners. He hit the top of the country charts seven times in his first decade, with singles including “I Love the Way You Love Me,” “I Swear,” “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident)” and “The Little Girl.” “I Swear” was a hit twice in the same year, first for Montgomery and then for R&B group All-4-One, proving the versatility of Montgomery’s material. That smooth versatility and accessibility continue to serve him well.
Rodney Carrington (Dec. 7-16, MGM Grand) Rodney Carrington and NFR go together like cowboys and hats. The singing comedian performs in Las Vegas every December for a 10-day stretch, connecting with the audiences that see him each year during their annual rodeo pilgrimage. His latest Netflix special, Here Comes the Truth, filmed in Tulsa, Okla., was released in October, and reveals a leaner, darker, post-divorce Carrington. The album version debuted at No. 1 on iTunes’ comedy charts, and furthers Carrington’s legacy of delivering raunchy, NFR-worthy standup.
Brenda Lee (Dec. 8, Golden Nugget) In the 1960s, Brenda Lee was one of the biggest names in early rock and pop, racking up more than 40 chart hits, including the classics “I’m Sorry” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” Lee returned to her country roots in the ’70s, hitting the country charts with songs like “Nobody Wins,” “Sunday Sunrise,” “Tell Me What It’s Like” and “The Cowgirl and the Dandy,” and recording a 1982 album with country legends Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson. Since then, Lee has been a staple of the country-music world, and she’s seen a whole generation of younger fans and musicians discover her influential early rockabilly style and sound.
Gary Allan (Dec. 8-9, Hard Rock Hotel) Gary Allan is a country-music lifer. Born into a musical family, he started playing honky-tonks at age 13 and discovered the musicians that would shape his initial artistic approach and attitude when he caught the Highwaymen (Cash, Haggard, Jennings, Kristofferson) live. Allan established himself as a new traditionalist with Bakersfield leanings on his 1996 debut Used Heart for Sale, and has maintained a maverick persona throughout his recording career. His latest single “Mess Me Up” was released in May.
Ron White (Dec. 8-9, The Mirage) Ron White loves Las Vegas and the country music community. The Route 91 Harvest tragedy affected him deeply, so it’s a safe bet the most hard living of the Blue Collar comedians plans to help heal with humor and will likely give some of his most heartfelt performances ever this December. White is one of the few entertainers to perform both weekends of NFR this year. Rest assured, he’s up to the task.
Travis Tritt (Dec. 8-9, Westgate Las Vegas) Travis Tritt winning Billboard’s Top New Male Artist in 1990 signaled a new era in country music and the launch of a nearly three-decade career. His second single, “Help Me Hold On,” earned the Southern rock revivalist his first No. 1 hit that year, and his 1991 album It’s All About to Change made him a permanent fixture in the country superstar firmament. Tritt brings his special solo-acoustic show to Las Vegas during NFR, with stripped-down arrangements of his outlaw sound.
Pam Tillis & Lorrie Morgan (Dec. 9, Golden Nugget) Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan could easily fill entire shows with their own country hits (Tillis’ “Maybe It Was Memphis” and “Mi Vida Loca”; Morgan’s “Something in Red” and “Except for Monday”), but when the two team up, they take things to a whole other level. The veteran stars launched the first edition of their Grits and Glamour tour in 2009, and since then they’ve been an unstoppable team, recording two albums together (2013’s Dos Divas and last month’s Come See Me and Come Lonely) and enhancing each other’s live performances with harmonies and duets. Together, they’ve taken their music to places beyond what they could ever do on their own.
Charlie Daniels Band (Dec. 10, Golden Nugget) Charlie Daniels has been the embodiment of Southern rock since releasing his signature song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” in 1979, with its story of a young musician defeating the devil in a fiddle battle. It’s been used in countless movies and TV shows and covered by acts ranging from The Muppets and Blues Traveler to Primus, but nothing can compare to the experience of seeing Daniels perform the virtuosic fiddle parts himself. The leader of the Charlie Daniels Band is a versatile singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who’s been recording and touring for nearly 50 years, and he can still fiddle with the best of them.
Parmalee (Dec. 10, SLS Las Vegas) Named for the quartet’s North Carolina hometown, Parmalee formed when brothers Matt (lead vocals, guitar) and Scott Thomas (drums) united with cousin Barry Knox (bass) and childhood friend Josh McSwain (guitar). The band survived a 2010 robbery that put Scott Thomas in the hospital, and played a label showcase the next year. Parmalee’s 2013 album Feels Like Carolina yielded the hits “Musta Had a Good Time” and “Carolina.” They’re currently on tour in support of their latest album, 27861.