George Strait Rode Away at the Top of His Game at AT&T Stadium
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.