Not His First Rodeo: Jason Kane Talks Growth of Music at Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

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Beyonce Knowles arrives on horseback to perform for her hometown crowd at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo on March 18, 2004 in Houston, Texas.

After a lengthy career in radio, Jason Kane jokes that he “ran off and joined the circus” 10 years ago. That’s when he took the job as managing director of entertainment and concert production for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, a massive annual event that last year drew 2.5 million people to Houston stadium NRG Park.

His job includes the talent-buying for three weeks of nightly superstar concerts and everything involved in the production and logistics side of the shows. This year’s lineup for the March 1-20 event, announced Jan. 11, features Luke Bryan, Keith Urban, Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, Brad Paisley, Florida Georgia Line, Little Big Town and many more country stars, as well as non-country acts including Pitbull and Jason Derulo. Tickets go on sale Jan. 16.

“We really are proud of the fact that for a lot of the country stars this is a badge that you played this show and collected your buckle,” says Kane.

Given his background, which includes stints as an Austin-based regional vp and director of operations for the company then known as Clear Channel and 15 years at Seattle-based radio research firm the Research Group as senior vp/partner, Kane compares booking the rodeo to a programming job because “you’re making selections and trying to figure out what’s going to really appeal to our audience.” And he applies one of the main “precepts of programming” to booking the shows: “Play the hits.”

With overall responsibility for all 20 consecutive concerts, Kane (pictured) likens the portion of his job that happens during the rodeo’s three-week run to “being a CPA at tax time.” But he says several of the skills he picked up working in radio have been tremendously helpful in his current job, including understanding how the Nashville music business works and being “able to look over the horizon and see who’s coming up” on the talent side. This year’s bookings include rising stars Cole Swindell and Brett Eldredge.

His radio experience also taught him that “all artists in one way or another are like a small media company in that what I’m purchasing is access to their audience [and] their ability to draw that audience into our venue.

“We have 72,000 seats to sell” every night, he notes. “People look at you like you’re either a winner or loser each night depending on how many seats are filled.” He says that doesn’t rattle him: “As a [radio] programmer, you’re always in that position in terms of people judging your performance.”

Through most of the year, Kane works with just one additional team member — manager of concert production Brittany Cooke — but says his staff “accordions up” closer to show time as it brings in experts in sound, lighting and tour management. Overall, the rodeo operates with 85 full-time staffers, bolstered by an astonishing 32,000 annual volunteers. “They provide such value and are so committed to this organization,” says Kane of those volunteers. “More than anything, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is a community institution,” he adds, as evidenced by its 47,000 paying annual members who get “preferential treatment” similar to an artists’ fan club members come show time.

The event traces its roots back to 1932, and it also includes a carnival, a livestock show, shopping booths and the children’s rodeo event known as mutton busting. Quips Kane, “We strap your children to animals and call it entertainment.”

As for the overall event, says Kane, people generally “don’t get it until you see it,” and he explains that many are surprised to learn it operates as a 501(c)(3) charity. “We’re committed this year to nearly $26 million in charitable contributions,” he explains. “Our No. 1 charitable mission is education. We give away a tremendous number of four-year full-ride scholarships.”

Another thing Kane takes pride in is the event’s low ticket prices. “We’ve got a commitment in being able to provide value and family entertainment that people can’t get anywhere else,” he says. “Our average ticket price, including our high-dollar seats, is $28.50. The average ticket price [for other events] in Houston is somewhere around $74. People get an incredible value, two hours of rodeo and a double-A concert at the end of the night.” Plus mutton busting.