REVIEW: Cody Johnson, Wells Fargo Arena, 5.17.24

They say that everything is bigger in Texas.


From cowboy hats to cattle, to egos and acreages, there ain’t nuthin’ little about Texas. Across the board, Texas is you times two.


Country music artist — and Texan — Cody Johnson, hailed by some as one of the recent saviors of “real” country music, rolled into Wells Fargo Arena Friday night to play for 11,500 people on his “Leather” tour, sporting a Longhorn-sized reputation as country music’s new “old country” music guy who loves good “old country” music. “Old,” as in 1995.

Hey, it’s better than nothing.

The 36-year-old Johnson has built a solid reputation as a USA-loving, God-fearing cowboy, paying homage to first responders, law enforcement, and the military at each and every stop he makes on tour. He’s not an oddity in doing so. The majority of country music artists do something similar, just at differing levels of honesty and conviction. It’s hard to see the forest through the trees sometimes in this age of social media, and sadly, because of it, artists tend to say one thing and do another. 

There’s something different about Johnson, though. When the Texan took to the stage Friday night with robust renderings of “Me and My Kind,” “Dance Her Home,” and “With You I Am,” there was a refreshing air of genuine country in the air. George Strait-style country, that is. And that’s fine. Strait is a giant in the industry. Johnson, he’s working his way there. Give him another 17 years and we’ll see. But he’s off to a good start.

Johnson kept the visuals to a minimum, focusing on — get this — the music. Go figure. It wasn’t a country-gone-rock show. Johnson wasn’t playing that game, keeping everything from the smallish video boards flanking each side of him to the backdrop behind him as old school as it gets. The backdrop, which simply featured his name, didn’t change the entire night.

And neither did he.

“If you came to Des Moines looking for country music, you came to the right place,” he told the audience. “It’s my job to try to make country music sound like country music again, and I will continue to play country music until the day I die.”

 “Dear Rodeo,” his duet with Reba McEntire from his 2019 album “Ain’t Nothin To It,” drew a big early response from those in attendance, as did “Nothin On You” in which Johnson channeled a Chris Stapleton-esque vocal delivery.

His band was solid. “People In the Back” featured a thumper of a groove, followed by an expert transition to an acoustic and oft-bluegrass-tinged, “Fenceposts.”

Johnson and his band made their way through “Long Haired Country Boy,” “Human,” “Dirt Cheap,” and the ACM award-nominated “The Painter,” before hitting the peak of the night with his most recognizable song to date, “Til You Can’t.” The encore featured the one-two punch of  “Diamond In My Pocket” and a cover of “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.”

“I was told I needed to wear skinny jeans and couldn’t wear a cowboy hat to make it in country music,” he told the audience.

He didn’t. And he did.

Mammas, let them babies grow up to be cowboys.

CoJo cowboys, that is.

Setlist, Cody Johnson, Wells Fargo Arena, 5.17.24
Me and My Kind
Dance Her Home
With You I Am
Dear Rodeo
Nothin On You
People In The Back
Work Boots
Double Down
On My Way To You
God Bless America
Long Haired Country Boy
Dirt Cheap
The Painter
‘Til You Can’t
Diamond In My Pocket
Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys

By Darren Tromblay