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Volume 68, Issue 112, Monday, March 17, 2003

Arts & Entertainment

The 'Genius of Soul' jazzed up the rodeo

Mario Gudmundsson
The Daily Cougar

Ray Charles, the "Genius of Soul," enchanted an audience of serious fans at the Rodeo on Friday, along with opening act, country singer Ronnie Milsap.

The night was kicked off, however, by two ostentatiously horrific accidents in bull riding. Two young men thrown from their bulls in succession laid unconscious on the dirt as audience members gasped and emergency staff hurried to the rescue to perform CPR. Rodeo clowns tried their best to draw attention away.

The official announcement claimed that both young men were injured yet able to walk out of the stadium on their own. 

Ronnie Milsap took the stage after this debacle in a blaze of fireworks and blue light, and did not do much to improve the mood. 

While Milsap was singing a medley of well-known songs, like "Smoky Mountain Rain" and "I Wouldnit Have Missed it for the World," the crowd waited patiently for Ray Charles to take over. 

Comedian Brian Matney, who accompanied Milsap from Nashville, duly tried the crowdis patience. Matney bombed spectacularly.

"Who here likes impressions?" asked Matney. "Nobody!" answered much of the crowd. 

After a groan-inspiring selection of Ross Perot and Willie Nelson impressions (complete with awful fake braids), the only sincere reaction the comedian got was when he called the Dixie Chicks "evil" in reference to an ill-placed comment made by one of that bandis members in London.

About 20,000 people walked out during Matneyis set. Only the true fans were left when the 17-piece Ray Charles orchestra took the stage. Trumpet and saxophone solos were the order of the day, as the stage spun slowly to reveal an elegantly tuxedo-clad group playing restrained jazz to introduce Ray Charles, who was escorted on stage to a standing ovation.

Ray sat down to his piano in a blue dinner jacket and ruffled shirt, white hair and dark glasses shimmering under the hot rodeo lights. 

"Georgia" began, bringing tears to eyes as well as another round of heartfelt applause. Charles played several favorites on his own before being joined by his five-singer backup group, the Raelettes. Charles performed for close to half an hour before finishing his set in a shower of fireworks, to a two-minute standing ovation.

Jazz and soul arenit intended for stadiums. Charlesi set and song selections would have been better suited to an intimate venue, where nuance and subtleties can be appreciated, without echoing stadium acoustics. 

This doesnit mean that Charles is lacking as a performer. The few remaining fans were treated to a show so emotive and full that it bridged the gap between performer and audience.

Ray Charles

RodeoHouston at Reliant Stadium, One Reliant Park

The verdict: Although the echoing stadium acoustics didnit do Charles justice, the powerful show still brought tears to the eyes of many fans.

 Send comments to dcshobiz@mail.uh.edu

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