George Strait The Cowboy Rides Away Tour AT&T Stadium, Arlington Saturday, June 7, 2014
Last Saturday night, a massive crowd of dedicated country music fans crammed into AT&T Stadium to say goodbye to the king of country music, George Strait. After 30 years of making some of the best music in the genre, recording more number one hits than the Beatles, and making every woman south of the Mason-Dixon swoon, there could have been no more fitting farewell for King George.
All of North Texas was paying attention to this show. You couldn't tune your radio to a country station within 50 miles of the metroplex on Saturday without hearing a George Strait song. Twitter and Facebook were clogged with excited updates from people who had tickets and envious posts from those who didn't. Strait may still continue to perform and record after this tour, but his most dedicated fans weren't willing to risk missing out on seeing the legend one last time.
With 60 number one hits, Strait had an overwhelming body of work to draw from for the show. As a result, it proved a marathon of over 40 of his biggest hits, and lasted over three hours. Everyone in that crowd was listening for their personal favorite Strait song, and I would guess that most of them heard theirs.
Hundreds of trailers, tents, and RVs full of beer-drinking folks in cowboy boots filled the parking lots in anticipation of Strait's final show. Truth be told, there were probably more people tailgating George Strait than the Cowboys see in an entire season. I got the impression that at least some of these people didn't even have tickets to the show, they were just there to be part of what was perceived as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"Once in a lifetime" really isn't much of an exaggeration. King George was joined by 12 of the biggest acts in the genre, each capable of selling out stadiums in their own right. When George played the very first event at then-Cowboys Stadium with Reba McEntire a few years ago, 60,000 fans were in attendance. On Saturday night, there were over 100,000 people in the crowd, more than any other indoor concert in history.
Aside from the record-setting attendance, it certainly felt like you were part of something historic. When Strait walked down a red carpet to take the stage, the entire stadium was on its feet. The noise from the crowd was deafening, but a deep reverence hung thick in the air, the kind of respect only a true icon could command. It became immediately clear that this show was more than just a concert; it was a cultural event. We were all at the church of country music, and King George was leading worship.
After decades on the road, Strait is a finely tuned machine on stage. From the opening notes of the first song, "Check Yes or No," the entire audience was wrapped up in King George. People were dancing in their seats and in the aisles, holding hands with their sweethearts, and most notably, singing along with every word to every song.
It was also clear that these songs were more than just music to that audience; they were personal. As cliche as it may sound, these albums are the soundtrack to his fans' memories. In the truest sense of the word, Strait is a troubadour. The couple sitting in front of me danced to "I Cross My Heart" at their wedding, and I saw more than one little girl's dad with tears in his eyes during "I Saw God Today."
Strait isn't a publicly political man, but that doesn't mean he's without principles. Halfway through the show, he gave a beautiful, mortgage-free home to Army Sgt. Leroy Petry, a Medal of Honor recipient who was wounded in combat in Afghanistan. Through a partnership with the Wounded Warrior Foundation, Strait has provided a home for a wounded veteran at each stop on his tour.
When he played "I Believe," a tribute to the victims of the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting, Strait's teary eyes had even the tough guys all choked up. Even though it was a farewell, most of this show wasn't at all sad. It was grateful. Strait took multiple opportunities to express thanks to his Ace in the Hole Band, his contemporaries joining him up on stage and the thousands of fans in his audience. After 30 years of being on top, Strait is as humble as he's ever been.
The generational diversity of the crowd gave me hope for country music's future, especially when you consider how many of the fans in that audience knew all the words to Strait songs that were recorded long before they were born. This was a crowd that had a respect for country music's glory days and great hopes for its future -- a crowd that wants fewer Nashville gimmicks, more great songwriting and guitar picking.
Frankly, it's hard to find fault with Strait's final show. Sure, AT&T Stadium's sound system isn't the greatest, but King George is the commensurate showman. It was almost as if Strait had customized the show to make it perfect for each individual person who was there. I'm not sure that there is any other artist alive who has a better command of both their craft and the desires of the audience.
As the set began to wind down, no one wanted it to end. The set list played as Strait's musical history, but everyone kept hoping for just one more song. As the final notes of "Unwound" played, there wasn't anyone skipping out early to beat the crowds. Nobody cared about sitting in the godawful traffic after the show, they just wanted to see more Strait.
There's no convincing me that there will ever be a better showcase of great country music than the night's encore, at least not outside of Nashville. The three-song set included all of Strait's superstar support acts, including Jason Aldean, Alan Jackson, Sheryl Crow, Vince Gill, Eric Church, Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Miranda Lambert and Kenny Chesney. "All My Exes Live in Texas" was particularly great, as was a cover of "Folsom Prison Blues."
Fittingly, Strait and his guests ended the night with "The Cowboy Rides Away." Even though there is likely still more to come from Strait, like the three records left on his deal with MCA, Saturday night still marked the end of the era. After 30 years of almost non-stop touring, Strait has hung up his proverbial spurs. Even if this were the last we hear from him, Strait took his place in country music history in Arlington, Texas this past weekend.
Long live King George.
Setlist: "Check Yes or No" "A Fire I Can't Put Out" "Lovebug" with Special Guest Vince Gill "Does Ft. Worth Ever Cross Your Mind" with Special Guest Vince Gill "River of Love" "Lead On" "Fool Hearted Memory" with Special Guest Jason Aldean "Nobody in His Right Mind Would Have Left Her" with Special Guest Jason Aldean "Arkansas Dave" "I Saw God Today" "Cowboys Like Us" with Special Guest Eric Church "Easy Come Easy Go" with Special Guest Eric Church "The King of Breaking Hearts" "Marina Del Rey" "Here For A Good Time" with Special Guest Sheryl Crow "When Did You Stop Loving Me" with Special Guest Sheryl Crow "I Can Still Make Cheyenne" "Drinkin' Man" "Jackson" with Special Guest Martina McBride "Golden Ring" with Special Guest Martina McBride Military Warrior Support Foundation Home Giveaway "Give It Away" "I Got A Car" "A Showman's Life" with Special Guest Faith Hill "Let's Fall To Pieces Together" with Special Guest Faith Hill "I Believe" "Blame It On Mexico" "Amarillo By Morning" with Special Guest Alan Jackson "Murder On Music Row" with Special Guest Alan Jackson "The Chair" "Give It All We Got Tonight" "How 'Bout Them Cowgirls" wit Special Guest Miranda Lambert "Run" with Special Guest Miranda Lambert "You Look So Good In Love" "I'll Always Remember You" "Ocean Front Property" with Special Guest Kenny Chesney "The Fireman" with Special Guest Kenny Chesney "Troubadour" "Unwound"
Encore (Strait was joined by all special guests): "All My Ex's Live In Texas" "Folsom Prison Blues" "The Cowboy Rides Away"
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