I'm in my late 20s, and when you hit that period of your life suddenly things start to change. You might have worse hangovers, the bands you liked in college most likely broke up, everyone is getting married, you desperately try to make the things you liked as a kid cool again, and you might be the oldest person at the parties you attend. These things are tough to deal with; you're getting older, the fun seems to be dwindling and suddenly you start cherishing memories you forgot you even had.
I say all this because George Strait is supposed to play his last concert in Arlington this weekend, and while I've never been the most professed country fan, he's played a pivotal role in my life as a music fan, a music worker and a music writer. How? Well, George Strait was my first concert.
I was just four years old, so this memory is hazy, I know for sure it was the "Beyond The Blue Neon" tour because my mother used to have a photo of a very tired and very much smiling me clad in an over-sized tour shirt asleep on the Coca Cola Starplex (now Gexa Energy Pavilion) lawn as Strait played his hits in the background. I know that while I was quite confused by what was going on I was elated to hear Strait play his hit, "The Fireman," because of course a four-year-old would love a song about a fireman, and would have no idea that the song was a guy who was the only one who could possibly please the hottest woman in a bar. In retrospect, George Strait might be responsible for my relationship issues and my affinity for lawn seats.
Hell, George Strait might be responsible for everyone's relationship issues, as it feels like roughly ALL of his 57 number-one hits deal with the idea of love lost and relationships on the rocks. In other words, he makes the type of country music that hack comedians like to harp on and heart broken southerners listen to while sipping a whiskey and wondering where the hell did it all go wrong.
He's not limited to just singing for the broken hearted; Strait has always traversed through a myriad of country genres, from western swing, to honky tonk, ballads and two-step-ready ditties, while somehow avoiding the trappings of whatever passes for a fad in country music at the time. In the '90s he never cultivated the party image that came en vogue with the help of Alan Jackson and Brooks & Dunn and he didn't double down on patriotism and religion like others did during the turn of the century. The traditional-leaning, straight-laced Strait is the furthest thing from the alt-rock/pop-country that's currently turning radio into a wasteland.
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That's why he's headlined the Houston Rodeo more than anyone else; that's why he was allowed to make a movie called Pure Country (I have the DVD and the VHS) and not be ripped by critics for it. He's a legend by any and all rights. From getting his start with Ace in the Hole on a small Dallas-based label, to putting out a greatest hits album just five years into his solo career, to having a run of seven straight number-one hits on the country charts, nothing -- not age, not the tragedy of losing a child, not even the aging of his audience -- has been able to slow Strait down. He's the biggest country star to ever live, and the 47 straight sold-out dates on his "Cowboy Rides Away" tour is testament to that.
Saturday will be Strait's last live performance despite being under contract to do five more albums for MCA Nashville, and honestly I believe him when he says this is it. He's reportedly worth well over $300 million and he's toured almost non-stop for 33 years. It's time for the ideal of a Texas Cowboy to go to his ranch, and live the life he knew as a young man and spent so many years singing about. Maybe the remaining five albums will allow him to experiment out of the safety of his previous work, maybe we'll get something akin to Johnny Cash working with Rick Rubin, or maybe things won't change at all. and he'll continue to sing the same sad songs he always does. It doesn't matter. It'll sell and it'll be damn well done.
The type of country music played by Strait and his contemporaries is in fad with local musicians, as Sunday nights at Adair's Saloon is usually taken over by '90s country cover act Straight Tequila Night and Denton has its own super-group of locals who play classic country covers in Raised Right Men. It seems like I wasn't the only child whose parents played him on a loop and was captured by the music being made.
If I'm being honest, I don't know that if it wasn't for the excitement of seeing Strait at that first concert that the idea of shows would be as fun to me as they are. If I'm being truthful with myself, if I didn't enjoy live music so much I don't know where my life would be: there'd be no show reviews written, no endless hours poring over music submissions. It's doubtful I'd have given three years of my life to help run a music festival. Many a music fan talks about the show that changed their life, the show that made them love it all. For me that show might have just happened when I was four. If it hadn't, who knows; maybe I'd be a fireman.