When they announced the Nashville finale for the Last Rodeo, Brooks & Dunn hinted that it would have a superstar lineup as they gave all the proceeds from their end-of-the-road concert to the Country Music Hall of Fame, located across the intersection from the Bridgestone Arena.
But when the last chord rang out and the lights went up on the sold-out auditorium at Thursday’s last-ever Brooks & Dunn show, you could count the extra artists who showed up on two fingers: Tyler Dickerson, who turned in a solid six-song opening set that sounded more mature than his chronological age — 16 — would suggest; and Reba McEntire, who kicked into gear for the last chorus of “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” a little more than half-way into B&D’s two-hour farewell.
Without the fanfare, it felt oddly like a regular Brooks & Dunn show. Kix Brooks broke into a bittersweet smile and doffed his cowboy hat at the end of the aptly titled “You’re Gonna Miss Me (When I’m Gone).” It looked on the video screen as if perhaps, just maybe, he was tearing up, but you couldn’t be certain.
And a 15-minute video package — introduced by GAC’s Storme Warren — featured band members, crew guys and management talking with admiration about their experiences with the duo. It was clear that Brooks & Dunn are — or, as it now stands, were — a class act.
But there was no big bow at the end, no on-stage breakdowns and no parade of stars sending them off into the sunset.
“This is not a funeral,” Kix insisted. “We did show up to party.”
And they did. Brooks & Dunn cranked it out heavy at the beginning, kick-starting things with “Play Something Country,” “You Can’t Take The Honky Tonk Out Of The Girl,” “Mama Don’t Get Dressed Up For Nothing” and “Put A Girl In It.” And they finished in a flourish with “Rock My World (Little Country Girl),” “Only In America” and — during the two-song encore — “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and “Brand New Man.” They also threaded the production with plenty of their trademark gimmicks: a giant steer head, a longhorn mirror ball, Kix’s whirling-dervish stage presence and blasts of confetti at two different junctures in the show.
In between, they hit a wide patch of songs that fanned their range of influences, from the Rolling Stones to Merle Haggard to the pre-Hotel California Eagles. They rolled through the drawled country of “How Long Gone,” Ronnie Dunn’s dramatic rendition of the ballad “It’s Getting Better All The Time” and the one-two spiritual punch of “Red Dirt Road” and “Believe.”
Since their national debut in 1991, Brooks & Dunn have been a heavy presence on the tour circuit, and the oddest part of watching the whole show unfold was thinking that for each of those songs, it might be the last time we see many of them performed live by two guys who became a sonic undercurrent to life in the heartland.
The finale had originally been planned for Aug. 10, but when Ronnie was put on vocal rest, the duo had to rejigger the schedule. Perhaps that’s a big reason there were so few guests. Perhaps not.
Since it had the air of a typical B&D show, it didn’t feel quite as final as maybe it could have. They certainly went out with a party atmosphere, but it’s so much a part of their persona that it was tough to feel like it really was the end.
Nevertheless, the location and the cause were perfect. Because when all is said and Dunn, Kix and Ronnie are a lock for membership in the Country Music Hall of Fame. It’s not really a question of if, just a matter of when.