Music

That whole 'Who is Leon Bridges?' Houston Rodeo kerfuffle: What's going on there?

Leon Bridges
Leon Bridges DFW.com archives

Fort Worth's own Leon Bridges is playing Black Heritage Day at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo on March 2.

When you consider some of the other artists who've played that night at that rodeo, it's another feather in Bridges' already-feathered cap.

Beyonce. Natalie Cole. Mary J. Blige. Frankie Beverly & Maze. The Isley Brothers. Alicia Keys. Gladys Knight. John Legend. We could do this all night.

But that star-studded history has also sent the Houston audience's expectation bar to the moon — so much so that when Bridges was announced earlier this month, it landed with a head-scratching thud in some circles.

"Who is Leon Bridges?" was a common refrain on social media.

"Who is Leon Bridges?" Are you serious, Houston?

The TV station KPRC ran a story headlined, "Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Black Heritage Day disappointment," sourced mostly from an interview with radio personalities from 97.9 The Box, "Houston's Rhythmic Hip Hop radio station."

Then Texas Monthly followed with one titled, "Leon Bridges's Houston Rodeo Performance Wasn't Booked for African-American Music Fans."

What's unfolded is a dumbfounding social media debate where many black music fans find themselves in the "We want a more prominent artist than Leon Bridges for Black Heritage Day" camp, while at least one high-profile Bridges-backer used language some called racist in support of the Fort Worth kid.

Kyle Coroneos, site owner of Savingcountrymusic.com, said the Leon Bridges naysayers just "want Nicki Minaj to take the Houston Rodeo stage in a body suit, and rub up against a pole for 90 minutes while she lip syncs, because that's what they're familiar with."

Yikes.

But there's at least one more layer to the whole thing. Bridges admitted to Texas Monthly in November that his first high-profile show in front of a predominantly black audience, the 2016 Roots Picnic, didn't go so well.

"I had my shot when I played the Roots Picnic. It's a predominantly black, predominantly hip-hop festival," Bridges told the magazine. "My people. And I was excited to play for my people, but I didn't get the same reaction that I did when I played to a white crowd. I felt like it didn't work."

Bridges also hasn't been shy about addressing the more recent dust-up on his own social media channels.

Officials at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo would not comment on the episode or on whether they would one day like to lure Bridges to his hometown rodeo stage. For the record, the Roadhouse stage next to the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum hasn't been around near as long as its Houston counterpart, nor does it attract the big-name talent that the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo does.

But genre would clearly not be an issue, if it were to ever come up. A group called Memphis Soul played on Jan. 15, and blues man Charley Crockett is playing after the second rodeo performance Saturday.

Is it possible that black music fans just don't identify with Bridges' retro sound?

The Houston Rodeo crowd seems to be making its case in the affirmative, but Bridges isn't without supporters, of course.

Whatever the case, if someone was taking bets, there'd be a lot of Fort Worth money on Bridges changing a whole lot of Houstonian minds come March 2.

Matthew Martinez: 817-390-7667; @MCTinez817

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