Cody Johnson describes his new single “Dear Rodeo” as his love letter to the rodeo — a sport he chased doggedly before finding love, a family and a calling on country music stages.
Ultimately Johnson decided he wasn’t good enough to make a living riding bulls, but you hear his remorse across each word of the song from Ain’t Nothin’ to It. How the story recalls one’s own regrets is what will determine the commercial fate of “Dear Rodeo,” a ballad that on its face is pretty insular. Broken bones, belt buckles and cowboy hats are easy emotional portals for those who grew up chasing cattle in rural America, but less so for country fans that think Pabst Blue Ribbon when they read “PBR.”
Lyrically, Johnson speaks to the rodeo like one may speak to a relationship that crashed and burned. “But somehow the highs outweigh the lows / And I’ll do it all again even though we both know / I’d still have to let you go,” he concedes at the end of each chorus.
Those of us old enough to have loved and lost a few times can find a nail to hang our hats on there, and the arrangement leans heavy into this heartbreak, unlike so many two-stepping fiddlers about rodeo. Those who’ve already invested in Johnson’s rising star will get it first; he and his team may need to exercise patience for other segments of the population to come around.
Johnson tells Taste of Country that producer Trent Willmon urged him to write “Dear Rodeo,” and while he’s glad he did, it’s a struggle to add to setlists. “That one song is probably the hardest song I’ve ever played because I wanna tear up every night because it was so real,” he says.
WATCH: The Real Story of Cody Johnson’s “Dear Rodeo”
Cody Johnson’s “Dear Rodeo” Lyrics
Dear rodeo / I’d be lying if I tried to tell you I don’t think about you / After all the miles and the wild nights that we’ve been through / Lord knows we had a few / And, dear rodeo / I’d like to say that I took the reins and rode away / No regrets, no left-unsaids / Just turn the page / Oh, but you know better, babe
Between the almost-had-’ems and broken bones / The dream of a buckle I’ll never put on / I’m jaded / Whoa, I hate it / But somehow the highs outweigh the lows / And I’ll do it all again even though we both know / I’d still have to let you go
So, dear rodeo / I tried like hell to tell myself it was all your fault / I held on tight with all my might / I just couldn’t hang on / And that’s hard to hang your hat on
Dear rodeo / I’d like to think you miss me, too / But I know you don’t / Oh, but that don’t change the past / And that don’t change the truth / I’m still in love with you / Dear rodeo
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