For a band that hasn't slowed down in 20 years, an ending seems unfathomable. Brooks and Dunn performed their final show in Wichita on Thursday night as part of their "Last Rodeo" tour. The duo has been together for two decades, and they performed at Intrust Bank Arena as if they were just entering their prime.
Ronnie Dunn still hits all the notes. Kix Brooks still brings plenty of energy and his lead vocal turns are a special attraction. But in a few months their run will be over and the fans that packed the arena will be able only to look back on country music's most successful and popular tandem.
Dunn's lead was sharp on the opener, "Play Something Country," from 2004.
Even though the duo first appeared in the early 1990s, the beginning of the pop-country era, just looking at them could make older fans remember when country was all about the steel guitar and crying in your beer.
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With more than 20 songs that have reached No. 1 on the country charts, Brooks and Dunn had a near-endless supply of hits to choose for their set. Even the lesser-known songs felt more important with the knowledge that soon they'll never be played live again.
Still, the pair packed plenty of their most popular songs into the early portion of the set, which began just before 9 p.m. after Tyler Dickerson and Jason Aldean performed.
After repeatedly asking if there were any cowgirls in Kansas, Dunn belted out "Cowgirls Don't Cry." Two songs after one of the duo's newer hits, "Put A Girl In It," Brooks delivered his first lead vocal on "You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone," which reached No. 1 on the country charts in 1995. Brooks held one of the final high notes for several seconds and tipped his hat after a healthy ovation when the song ended.
Brooks and Dunn had something for fans of every sub-genre of country music. They rocked with electric guitar riffs and sat down to play slow acoustic songs. Brooks had the spotlight to tell the fans "Thanks for paying our rent the past 20 years" and told a story about one of his favorite rodeo cowboys who decided to give up his passion.
The story was symbolic: Its moral was to appreciate the time you had doing what you love even as it's coming to an end. Brooks then delivered "Last Rodeo" while two video boards behind him showed grainy black-and-white footage of the pair's early days.
The last tour for Brooks and Dunn also seemed to be a swan song for Aldean as a warmup act. Aldean played for about an hour and drew several loud ovations when he played hits such as "Johnny Cash" and "She's Country."
No Aldean song was more anticipated or better received than "Big Green Tractor," which Aldean credits for an overwhelmingly successful 2009.
Aldean played off the crossover appeal by closing his set by singing Kid Rock's "Cowboy" featuring a talkbox guitar.
Thursday's show was about the past, present and future of country music: 16-year-old Tyler Dickerson's opening set included songs about acquiring a fake ID and leaving admiring females behind as he chased his dreams.
But ultimately it was about reminiscing as Brooks and Dunn dug out hits and obscure songs from a two-decade catalog that will be featured on the stereos of many Wichitans today as they look back in honor of the duo moving on.