It’s the last roundup for Brooks & Dunn. The iconic country duo, which brings its “Last Rodeo Tour” to the Spokane Arena tonight, is calling it quits after two decades. The final concert is Aug. 10 in Nashville. Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn are bowing out to a final round of fanfare. Two Sundays ago, they won the Academy of Country Music award for best vocal duo for the 10th time. The following night, they received the academy’s Milestone Award during a taping of their upcoming television special, “ACM Presents: Brooks & Dunn – The Last Rodeo.”
Brooks & Dunn released their first record, “Brand New Man,” in 1991 and went on to become country music’s top-selling duo with more than 30 million albums and 23 No. 1 hits.
They also served as role models and springboards for dozens of acts who followed, taking new singers and groups on tour with them.
“Twenty years – to me, that’s like a lifetime,” one of country music’s new guard, Taylor Swift, quipped during the taping of the TV special.
Swift surprised Dunn with a video that showed him doing an imitation of her trademark head shake.
“You had no idea how important that moment is because in 20 years that’s the first time I’ve ever seen him mess his hair up,” Brooks told Swift.
Faith Hill remembered the duo as country’s biggest practical jokers, telling a story from an early 1990s tour on which she opened for them. She turned in late one night in her hotel room and got an unwelcome surprise.
“I pulled back my covers, tucked myself in bed and there it was: a slimy eel thawing out in my sheets,” Hill said.
She sang a poignant rendition of the duo’s “The Long Goodbye,” then left the stage. A moment later two waiters appeared with takeout boxes for Brooks and Dunn, who sat on stage during the taping.
“Oh, it’s eel from Faith,” Brooks said before popping a piece in his mouth.
Dunn quipped: “I’ll save mine.”
Brad Paisley told the story of how the pair were solo artists until Tim DuBois at Arista Nashville came up with the idea to put them together, and told them to go write a song and see what happens.
“Tim introduced us over an enchilada on a Tuesday morning,” Brooks recalled. “He said, ‘I don’t need a boy singer, I’ve got Alan Jackson.’ ”
They came up with “Brand New Man” and “My Next Broken Heart” on consecutive days, and the partnership was sealed.
Each of the 16 performing acts in attendance at the taping got to choose a meaningful tune to play for the special, which will air May 23 on CBS.
George Strait received a standing ovation before playing “Boot Scootin’ Boogie.”
“People ask me all the time who I listen to, and I answer with three simple words: ‘Brooks and Dunn,’ ” Strait said.
Lady Antebellum singers Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley coaxed Dunn and Reba McEntire on stage for “If You See Him/If You See He.” Chesney got them to sing along on “You’re Going to Miss Me When I’m Gone.”
Miranda Lambert chose “Hillbilly Deluxe,” she said, “because it rocks.” Carrie Underwood sang “Neon Moon” the night after making history with her second ACM entertainer of the year win.
Longtime friend Reba McEntire wowed the duo with “Indian Summer” and Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush of Sugarland said they chose “Red Dirt Road” because they write their own material and wanted to pick a song that Brooks & Dunn penned themselves.
Bush told the story of how Dunn started the song on a cocktail napkin and handed it to Brooks to finish.
The night’s most poignant moment came after poet Maya Angelou hailed the duo in a video address.
“In their whole body of work, they’ve shown how much they care about the human condition,” she said.
Jennifer Hudson then performed a show-stopping version of “Believe,” reducing Hill and other members of the audience to tears.
“Girl, have you heard you?” Brooks asked Hudson.
He and Dunn capped off the evening with an all-star jam of “Play Something Country.”
Brooks thanked the many people responsible for the duo’s success, but also kept the crowd laughing.
“People say this is like a marriage breaking up, and, no, it’s not,” he joked. “There’s things involved in a marriage that are not involved in Ronnie’s and my relationship.”
Dunn reminded the crowd that though he and Brooks are ending their run, the music will continue.
“I’m going to buy a secondhand van and get a rusty old horse trailer, throw me some band equipment in it, and go find me a beer joint and keep singing,” he said.