A King's Ransom For One More Show By 'The King'
March 27, 2014
Thirty-four songs, two of which were covers. Three special guests. Nearly three hours of music. That's the box score for George Strait's recent Nashville stop on his "Cowboy Rides Away" tour, his last-ever official tour.
(Spoiler alert: See the end of this column for the set list!)
And George Strait still left me wanting more. As usual.
I have a special affinity for George because I've been in this format since the very beginning of his career, when he released "Unwound," his first-ever single, in April of 1981.
More on that in a bit. Friday, March 21st would be the last time I'd attend a George Strait concert. I have seen him many, many times during my (gulp) 35 years in this format. Clubs, arenas, stadiums ... you name it. Needless to say, I could go on and on about those memories and this most recent, final time.
But I thought it would be interesting for you to first read the perspective of someone who had NEVER seen a Strait show before this farewell tour. Our Editorial Assistant, Brittany Pellegrino, is a huge fan. In spite of her young age, she loves traditional Country music and reveres Strait. Brittany may be in her 20s, but she has an old soul. After you read her thoughts, I'll share some of mine.
"I'm a 25-year-old white girl from suburban Detroit who loves Country music. I know Detroit may not be the first place you think of when you think of Country music, but '90s Country was pretty much the soundtrack to my childhood -- especially George Strait.
"So, you can imagine my excitement when I learned I was going to attend his final concert here in Nashville. I had never seen George in concert, and wasn't sure what to expect, either.
"Some people said to me 'Well, he just stands there with his guitar.' My thought back to that was always 'And?'
"To my delight, George does SO much more than "just stand there with his guitar." He is, in my opinion, The Entertainer of the Year; of the genre.
"Yes, production and fire are fun and entertaining, but George doesn't need that. The guy has 60 #1 records, for goodness sake! From the moment he came out on stage, I was back to my six-year-old self who played "Check Yes Or No" on repeat.
"George's stage was set up right in the middle of Bridgestone Arena. He walked to each corner of the stage to give the crowd in that part of the arena his full attention; but even when he was on the other side of the stage, you could feel the energy from George and from the crowd. There's no doubt that he gave it his all that night.
"He played song after song (34 to be exact) and I couldn't get enough. I think I saw most of the concert through my phone screen because each time he switched to the next song, 'it was my favorite' and I wanted to record it.
"All that, and surprise duet appearances from Sheryl Crow, Eric Church and Kenny Chesney with George were the icing on the cake. Kenny and George singing "Amarillo By Morning" was a standout performance for me, and I'm pretty sure I watched it back at least 500 times the next day.
"I'm not sure if I'll get to see George play again. My first time very well may have been my last time, but when you have even one opportunity to see the man who heavily influenced your career choice and passion behind it; you never forget it. And I won't forget it. Thank you, King George."
Like Brittany, George heavily influenced my career choice.
I was doing weekends on KZLA/Los Angeles at the time, just 22 years old, six months into my Country radio career and still not sold on the music. A better word would be "indifferent" when it came to my attitude about Country. Unlike Brittany, Country was not the soundtrack to my childhood.
You see, the first time I ever listened to a Country song from start to finish was my first night on the air at KZLA. I didn't grow up listening to it, didn't like it, wasn't open to it, thought it was twangy and corny - the usual objections for somebody 22 and raised in L.A. on legendary AOR stations KMET and KLOS.
But I was working in radio ... in Los Angeles! Who cares what the format was? KZLA would be a great resume builder and stepping-stone to my next destination, hopefully playing Rock music.
But George Strait -- without ever knowing it -- intervened and turned me into a Country music fan.
For some strange reason, "Unwound" -- which was and is about as Country as it gets -- became my favorite song. I didn't know a thing about Strait but playing the song over and over, I painted a picture of him in my mind. I saw him as a middle-aged, paunchy bumpkin. So imagine my shock and awe when I finally saw the album cover to "Strait Country," his debut album. There was George, decidedly not middle-aged or paunchy.
The guy was a stud! I thought he was cool as shit. I listened to the entire "Strait Country" album. I loved the next two singles, "Down And Out" and especially, "If You're Thinkin' You Want A Stranger."
I drank the Kool-Aid big time and have been a regular user ever since.
I first saw Strait in a club, somewhere in Orange County, CA ... I don't remember exactly where. But I do remember women threw underwear at him. I recall dodging airborne bras, specifically.
As the years grew, so did Strait's career; I eventually saw numerous arena shows. During my time at KNIX/Phoenix in the late '80s and early '90s, he played the market every year. He always ended with "Unwound" and I watched in amazement as women sprinted to the stage during that song.
I worked in San Antonio from 1996-2000 and saw George play the Alamodome in 1997. There is something special about seeing an artist like that play the city that he lives in. I never saw the Beatles, but I would imagine the noise level that night in Texas equaled or bettered anything the Fab Four could generate.
George won his first "Entertainer of the Year" award from the CMA in 1989. As Brittany alluded to, even then, some balked, saying he just stood there.
Well, yeah! Stood there and played hit after hit after freakin' hit!
Even then, Strait had accumulated a strong catalogue of hits and for some of us, watching he and his famous "Ace In The Hole" band knock those hits out in precise fashion, that was entertaining enough, thank you very much. And you could not deny the ticket sales Strait was racking up.
We're now in an era where live Country shows feature elaborate staging and pyrotechnics, long runways for fan interaction and dazzling graphics.
Well, in a time when Country music is cooler than ever and our newer artists make every effort to look the part, George remains the coolest cat of all and does so in a completely effortless fashion, simply by being George.
George don't need no pyro, elevator entrance or video game antics when he hits the stage. The King saunters up there in his starched shirt, perfectly creased Wranglers and cowboy hat; and that is quite enough, thank you.
Like Brittany, I must say thanks to the King. For making me a fan of Country music and -lifelong fan of his music in particular; for more than 30 years, 60 #1 hits and countless shows that never disappointed, including and especially your final Nashville concert.
I know George's last-ever show will be in June in Dallas. Somehow, I need to find a way to be there, to see The King one last time.
George Strait Set List, Friday, March 21st, Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, TN:
- The Fireman
- Check Yes Or No
- Ocean Front Property
- Marina Del Rey
- Blame It On Mexico
- A Fire I Can't Put Out
- Nobody In His Right Mind
- That's What Breaking Hearts Do
- Arkansas Dave
- Here For A Good Time (w/ Sheryl Crow)
- When Did You Stop Loving Me (w/ Sheryl Crow)
- Rollin' on The River Of Love
- You Look So Good In Love
- How 'Bout Them Cowgirls
- Cowboys Like Us (w/ Eric Church)
- I Saw God Today
- I Can Still Make Cheyenne
- Drinking Man
- I Believe
- Give It Away
- Fool Hearted Memory
- Lead On
- Amarillo By Morning (w/ Kenny Chesney )
- Give It All We Got Tonight
- The Chair
- I Got A Car
- I'll Always Remember You.
- Wreck Me (Tom Petty song)
- All My Ex's Live In Texas
- Folsom Prison Blues
- The Cowboy Rides Away