For 84 years, the Houston Rodeo has been combining rodeo competitions with live musical entertainment. The three-week fair—doubled as a charitable institution—is best known for hosting country artists, but also features pop, rap and R&B performers. Jason Kane has been booking the line-ups for the past decade.
Radio & Research
As a child, I heard the Beatles and the hook was in—I wanted to be in music. I was always fascinated by radio. I worked at my hometown radio station, then in college in Pittsburgh. After a few years, I was in Washington, D.C. and met Bill Moyes and I joined his firm The Research Group. I spent 15 years with them as a partner and senior vice president. We had, at one point, 250 clients.
I was still on the broadcast side and ended up at Clear Channel, which later became iHeart. After that experience, I was back consulting with some select clients working on Internet projects.
A former client called me, “I’ve just left this job at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and think you’d be good. I’ve given them your name.” I said,
“I’m happy in Austin, don’t want to move to Houston and am too old to join the circus.”
“If you don’t want the job, don’t take it. But if they call you, do the interview.”
“You’re right. I need to be more grateful.” And I did it. I really wanted the job. I could be good at this. Luckily, they wanted me to join.
The Houston Rodeo is a 501(c)(3) charitable corporation. We raise money to send Texan students to school. This year, we’re committed to giving away $25 million in scholarships and even more than that in educational funding. It’s three weeks [long] and we have 32,000 volunteers.
Affordable Family Entertainment
A family can see two hours of rodeo and then be entertained by a first-class concert, all for $28.50. That’s impossible at most venues; the average ticket price in America is about $78.50. We have the carnival, livestock shows and exhibitions, shopping and all kinds of food.
Most people don’t get it until they come. People connect in a way you don’t often see. The folks who join us—2.5 million general attendance, nearly 1.4 million concert and rodeo—see a first-class product for a family value price.
Evolution of the Rodeo/Concert
Over the years, the show has changed significantly. Originally, it was only a stock show. Then they added the rodeo component and then the entertainer. Our first rodeo entertainer was Gene Autry. He was one of the first multimedia stars that ever came out of Hollywood—he had radio, he had records, he had movies and he had live appearances. He would come every year.
People look at me strange when I say, “We’re going to have Pitbull,” “We’re going to have Jason Derulo” or “We’re going to have Black Eyed Peas.” But what I’m seeing is that most people, particularly on the younger side, are less format-oriented. They love the variety.
Because of our heritage, there’s always going to be the anchor of our lineup every year—we’ll always be country. But when you start talking about entertainers like Enrique Iglesias or Pitbull, we’ve got to reflect our market, which is 40% Latino, 16% African-American. You want to be able to reflect those parts of the community.
We’ve got a fixed 20 days and I need entertainers who are committed to being there. In other words, there’s no moving our date, as often happens on a regular tour. That’s number one. Number two is the audience has, frankly, been used to getting A-level entertainment. And there are only so many A-level artists.
Our performances are in NRG Stadium, where the Houston Texans play. We have 71,000 seats; a blessing and a curse. There are only so many artists who will fill a venue of this size, so that’s another challenge.
And then there’s the challenge of being a charity. For a regular concert, ticket price rises if the artist fee gets higher. We only have so much money to spend, because we’ve got to be fiscally responsible to our mission. Unfortunately, there are times when I’ve got to walk away.