After 30 years of touring, releasing award-winning albums and racking up the most number one singles of any artist ever (not just in the country genre), George Strait is hanging up his cowboy hat. No worries; the 60-year-old Texan, affectionately referred to as "King George," still plans to release new music. But his boots are getting worn out and the cowboy is riding away; Strait made his final Minnesota stop last night at the Xcel Center.
Strait is a straight-up legend, no " buts" about it. He remains one of the most influential, respected and referenced working musicians in country music today. Even though the country industry has changed a great deal since he started recording in the late '70s, Strait's material never veers towards pop, instead staying true to the more traditional sound that made his name. We don't have to worry about Strait teaming up with a hip-hop artist or writing a song called "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk." Up-and-coming artists like Greg Bates and Easton Corbin owe a great deal to Strait's twangy sound, and more established artists like Alan Jackson, Reba McEntire, Martina McBride (his opening act, a vocal force to be reckoned with) and Blake Shelton sing his praises. He's the real deal; no treacly Taylor Swift or Rascal Flatts for Strait and his fans.
He's also a touring pro. Strait presented a concise mix of new and old material to the Xcel crowd, opening with "Here for a Good Time" and running through his giant scope of hits from "Check Yes or No" to "Amarillo by Morning" and "The Chair." His voice sounds exactly as it did in his earliest years, though his face shows he's been around awhile. But his pitch is perfect, his enthusiasm sincere.
Strait's crowds love him. They sing along with every syllable and hang on his every word. When they hear the opening fiddle strain of "Amarillo by Morning," they're instantly on their feet. In an age where his contemporaries appear on reality TV shows and Gwyneth Paltrow movies, releasing their own fragrances and crossing over to KDWB, Strait is an authentic piece of classic country. It's a stroke of luck that he's not done recording; his voice on the radio harkens back to an earlier, golden age while still remaining modern.
Most of the show paid tribute to the past; Strait played some of his earliest material from 1978, and he and opener McBride duetted on classic Johnny and June song "Jackson," as well as Tammy Wynette/George Jones' "Golden Ring." A newer song, "I'll Remember You," was Strait's sentimental (though never schlocky) look back.
With "The Cowboy Rides Away" tour, of course Strait is saying goodbye to the road he's traveled for so many years. But we never feel that he's reconciling his decision onstage, working out demons or begging us to encore him into sticking around. He loves his fans and in playing his biggest hits so perfectly, he's expressing that love the best way he knows how.
Read Kara Nesvig's review of the WE Fest Country Music Festival at Soo Pass Ranch (August 2012)
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©2013 Kara Nesvig (text) and Patrick Dunn (photos)
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