The Super Bowl Halftime Show has been must-see TV since at least 1993. To further the big game's global audience, the halftime show's sponsors book surefire draws. Typically, they turn to pop vocalists (Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars) and rock legends (Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, Paul McCartney).
When the big game first came to Atlanta in 1994 for Super Bowl XXVIII, music associated with (and existing well beyond) the South and the victorious Dallas Cowboys' home state rode a wave of popularity. Georgia-born Travis Tritt enjoyed the respect and fame needed for such a high-profile local gig. He joined Clint Black, Tanya Tucker and Wynonna, who pulled double-duty because of a surprise Judds reunion, for the Rockin' Country Sunday halftime show.
Black started the festivities with "Tuckered Out," a cut off his hit album No Time to Kill. Tucker followed up with a rocking rendition of "It's a Little Too Late," which led into Tritt's equally high-octane take on "T-R-O-U-B-L-E." Wynonna's best pop-accessible cut "No One Else On Earth" dovetailed into a memorable Judds reunion. The mother and daughter duo sang a moving performance of "Love Can Build a Bridge." Wynonna and Naomi Judd were joined by song's end by a bevy of special guests, including Stevie Wonder, Charlie Daniels, the Georgia Satellites and, for no apparent reason, Joe Namath and Elijah Wood.
Part of what makes this show seem so impressive nearly 30 years later is the timing. A year prior, Michael Jackson changed the Super Bowl halftime show forever when his performance positively impacted television ratings. Country stars getting the enviable call to build off Jackson's game-changing appearance speaks volumes about the mainstream respect for '90s country.
Such fads as line dancing helped legitimize the show, but these artists were hardly flashes in the pan. Tucker proved her talent at an extremely young age in the 1970's. Despite being in her 30's, she was a 20-year veteran of country music by 1994. Wynonna earned her spot with the Judds, an act legendary enough to warrant a reunion on such a grand stage. Black and Tritt built followings off the demand for traditional country. Both stars filled the still-fresh boot-prints of Randy Travis, Ricky Skaggs and other like-minded performers.
The widespread popularity of "hat acts" and two-steps eventually waned. Since 1994, the only country star to land a halftime show appearance was Sting and No Doubt's 2003 co-star, Shania Twain. If you count Nashville resident Kid Rock as country, double that count because he was on hand the following year for Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction."
That kind of REAL COUNTRY halftime show will never happen again. Sad.
— Travis Tritt (@Travistritt) January 31, 2018
As Tritt observed on Twitter, a Super Bowl showcase of seasoned country music stars feels like a pipe dream now. Nowadays, YouTube sensations and pop stars are more likely to get the nod than road-tested country singers. Even if someone like Chris Stapleton appears in the coming years, it won't be the same as having four country music acts as co-headliners on a global stage.
This article was originally published in January of 2018.