That deafening roar heard from the Heart of Texas Saturday night was not a natural disaster. It was a fitting send-off for the reigning king of country music George Strait.
The last show of the two-year, cross-country Cowboy Rides Away adios tour for te fans featured a custom revolving stage set center field only used twice before, in Houston and San Antonio. The stage was dwarfed by the world’s largest high-definition LED video display looming above it.
The sound was as good as to be expected for being played at the bottom of a cavern. Lots of echoes and bouncing around.
That said, Texas legends Asleep at the Wheel was in fine form as they opened the show with a heavy dose of their inspiration and the King of Western Swing, Bob Wills.
Then it was time.
104,793 rapturous fans help set a new record for largest indoor concert in North America, putting to bed the popular myth that country music can’t have an ear to tradition and still sell tickets.
All made their voices heard as Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson, like a contemporary vaudeville barker, lent his signature baritone to a lengthy list of the awards and accolades collected by Strait over his career.
None of those rewards resulted as airs as the pride of Poteet, TX (due south of San Antonio) moseyed onto the stage spotlight, blue-checked Western shirt, jeans, boots, trademark black hat and shining that warming 1000 kilowatt smile.
If Strait was daunted by the outpouring of deafening admiration it didn’t show. Appreciation certainly. After all, he was surrounded by friends.
And that what you feel like at a George Strait show. He makes you feel comfortable, right at home, take a seat. Like he’s performing right for you. Right from the opener , the 1995 classic “Check Yes or No,” you settle in and enjoy the ride.
And what a ride. Over three hours and nine guest appearances, including his son and recent song co-writer George Jr., aka Bubba. Strait treated the crowd to songs from his entire 30 plus year career. From his first 1981 hit single “Unwound” to “That’s What Breaking Hearts Do” from hi saltiest ‘Love is Everything” there was something from every era and for everyone.
Current chart toppers Jason Aldean, Eric Church and Miranda Lambert and Strait’s contemporaries Martina McBride, Alan Jackson and Vince Gill all took turns supporting Strait on his signature honky-tonk classics.
All displayed proper reverence to their host and mentor but still were able to supply unique dimensions, without showboating, to the songs.
Backed by his excellently seasoned Ace In The Hole Band, there was no stage gymnastics. No fist-pumping theatrics were needed to amp the crowd. Just a wave, a shake of the head and an occasional arm raise. Oh, and that smile.
How does a 62-year-old performer that can no longer crack hit radio format of mainstream country radio sell thousands of tickets and piles of merch? How did he garner 5 entertainer of the year awards and win a 2009 Grammy for best country album for 2009’s Troubadour while never adhering to Music Row’s rules? Rules having just been celebrated in Nashville at the CMA Awards?
By staying true to himself and his craft. If you were a Strait fan in the 80’s odds are you’re still a fan. He’s been loyal to his their expectations and those expectations play to his strengths. He’s made a career out of being who he is and dancing with those that brung him.
Like a premier pitcher, or since we’re in AT&T Stadium a premier quarterback (sorry Romo), Strait makes each nailed effort look effortless. A man, a guitar and simple stories reflecting life without breaking a sweat. And we all relate and we trust without irony or cynicism. We trust the messenger.
The realness of Strait cannot be overemphasized. He appears to become what he sings. World-weary or heartbroke. Sanguine and with a rascal spirit.
Though the vast majority of his songs are written by other people he is a master interpreter of other people’s work. His realness makes you believe.
Whether this is starts actual last show remains to be seen. Strait hasn’t said there won’t be any more concerts, just that he’s quitting touring. Odds are he’ll play the occasional gig in the Lone Star state. He’ll probably return to AT&T Stadium in April 2015 for the 50th anniversary Academy of Country Music Awards. That would be just. As far as music events AT&T Stadium is from now on Strait’s house.
Though not exactly a cowboy’s swan song it was one hell of close to a chapter of one of country music’s greats.
Check Yes or No
A Fire I Can’t Put Out
Lovebug (George Jones cover) (with Vince Gill)
Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind (with Vince Gill)
River of Love
Fool Hearted Memory (with Jason Aldean)
Nobody In His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her (with Jason Aldean)
Arkansas Dave (with Bubba Strait)
I Saw God Today
Cowboys Like Us
(with Eric Church)
Easy Come, Easy Go (with Eric Church)
That’s What Breaking Hearts Do
Marina Del Rey
Here for a Good Time (with Sheryl Crow)
When Did You Stop Loving Me (with Sheryl Crow)
I Can Still Make Cheyenne
Jackson (Billy Edd Wheeler cover with Martina McBride)
Golden Ring (George Jones & Tammy Wynette cover with Martina McBride)
Give It Away
I Got a Car
A Showman’s Life
(with Faith Hill)
Let’s Fall to Pieces Together
(with Faith Hill)
Blame It On Mexico
Amarillo By Morning (with Alan Jackson)
Murder on Music Row (with Alan Jackson)
Give It All We Got Tonight
How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls (with Miranda Lambert)
Run (with Miranda Lambert)
You Look So Good in Love
I’ll Always Remember You
Ocean Front Property (with Kenny Chesney)
The Fireman (with Kenny Chesney)
All My Ex’s Live in Texas (with Gill, Aldean, Church, Crow, McBride, Hill, Jackson, Lambert, Chesney, and Ray Benson of AATW)
Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash cover) (with Gill, Aldean, Church, Crow, McBride, Hill, Jackson, Lambert, Chesney, and Ray Benson of AATW)
The Cowboy Rides Away