A vacant expanse of dirt lay between Joan Sebastian and an audience of more than 3,000 Saturday at Cricket Wireless Amphitheater.
The area in front of the stage had been repurposed as rodeo grounds even though a post at Sebastian’s Facebook account earlier in the week delivered the disappointing news that because of “health and medical orders there shall be no riding” at the concert.
Sebastian, 63, occupies a position on the Mexican cultural landscape that’s somewhat akin to a combination of Willie Nelson and Chuck Norris. The singer, songwriter, bandleader and actor is famous for singing on horseback.
Sebastian was diagnosed with bone cancer 15 years ago. His ongoing battle with the disease forced him to cancel a headlining concert at the Sprint Center in 2012, and he recently halted an engagement after singing only four songs.
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Saturday, he didn’t look or sound like a man in poor health during his 75-minute appearance. Backed by a sprawling ensemble of about two dozen musicians, Sebastian performed 19 songs with zeal in his first concert in Kansas.
He played an acoustic guitar during the melodramatic ballad “Me Gustas,” but otherwise Sebastian gingerly strode across the stage or leaned on a stool as he sang. Caught up in the gorgeous bolero “Secreto De Amor,” Sebastian cautiously executed a few impressive dance moves.
Although he didn’t require their help, fans insisted on contributing vocal accompaniment on “Me Gustas,” “Un Idiota” and other ballads. A steel guitarist and saxophonists added appropriately sentimental solos on slow selections, while the brass section attempted to steal the show during uptempo material.
When they weren’t adding bone-rattling blasts to the dizzying blend of styles including ranchera, norteño, country and rock, the men engaged in loosely synchronized dancing.
Two bands — the youthful Mexican ensemble La Alianza Norteña and the Kansas City trio La Poderosa Makina Musikal — opened the show, but the real stars among the early evening entertainers were two bulls and the men who dared to ride them. A black bull promptly unseated each contestant. While less adept at dislodging mounts, a white bull amused the audience by repeatedly outsmarting the handlers who attempted to direct it back to its pen.
The bulls were dismissed and the rodeo fencing was dismantled during La Alianza Norteña’s 40-minute set, an indication that horses might somehow be incorporated into Sebastian’s performance. It didn’t happen.
But even without the horses, Sebastian’s magnificent effort demanded applause rather than pity.