Review: Cody Johnson keeps real country music alive | Music

Cody Johnson had just tried to turn Pinnacle Bank Arena into Austin’s legendary Broken Spoke, urging the crowd Friday night to do-si-do to “Dance Her Home” when he brought his hard-charging show to a halt.

“The last time we played this town, we sold 4,000 tickets,” he said. “There are more than 10,000 people in this room. Turn up the lights. I want to see all these people.”

Clearly touched by the turnout, Johnson referred to previous Nebraska shows later in the set, telling a story about playing here just after Nashville record execs, who loved his songs, rejected him as an artist because he wouldn’t “take off that cowboy hat.”

That sent the determined purveyor of real country music on an independent path, playing traditional country in honky tonks and bars across the country.

“I want you to understand what the 10,000 tickets mean to me,” Johnson said. “That’s over a decade of selling my own merch. … Every stream, every shirt, everything you bought and done have been helping real country music say alive.”

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Then came “On My Way To You,” his first hit single — dedicated to the crowd.

As he’s done at each of the shows I’ve seen him play here, Johnson delivered a high-energy 100 minutes of real, rowdy country … and he just keeps getting better and more entertaining.

From the opening “Honkytonk Hardwood Floor” onward, the set couldn’t have been more effectively arranged, e.g., the love ballad “Nothin’ On You” was followed by the twang and stomp of “Son of a Ramblin’ Man.”

Then came the autobiographic title cut of the documentary about the failed bull rider who became a county star, “Dear Rodeo,” the crowd singing Reba McEntire’s part, the hoedown “Let’s Build A Fire” and the night’s biggest surprise.

“We played this song last night,” Johnson said. “It was kind of a random deal. What the hell. We’re gonna play you a Dixie Chicks song”

That song was “Traveling Soldier.” Johnson and his five-man real country band (with fiddle and steel) nailed it.

Johnson saved his career-making smash “Til You Can’t” until late in the show. He didn’t need to do so — the crowd was so connected with him from the jump he could have done it first and still have blown the roof off the place.

Johnson might very well pick up a couple CMA awards in a few months — which would be well deserved.

But perhaps the best measure of his talent and success was the 10,000 people in the arena, singing nearly every song. And I’ll predict he’ll sell the place out the next time he’s in Lincoln.

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