It must have been a hard task to select a set list for this tour. With 60 No. 1 songs under his belt and more than three decades of touring, the 61-year-old George Strait has amassed enough chart-topping material to fill two concerts with hits—without repeating a song. And that’s not including his numerous Top 10 singles or beloved album cuts, often covered by other artists in their own set lists.
In 1981, a then 29-year-old Strait released his first single, “Unwound.” By 1982, his fourth single, “Fool Hearted Memory,” became his first No. 1 on the Billboard chart. In 2014, he will end his touring days as one of Country’s most-loved entertainers and song interpreters.
At Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Friday night (March 21), Strait offered fans a career retrospective, comprising 30+ songs. The crowd was on its feet, cheering approval long before Strait actually took the stage. His performance included nearly a dozen No. 1 songs, tracks from his 1981 debut album Strait Country, two cover songs, his latest single, and a smattering of Top 10 hits.
Indeed, when you have the knack for finding such top shelf material as Strait and his team have done for the past 30+ years, the songs become stars in their own right. The crowd cheered for the mellifluous melodies of “You Look So Good In Love” and “Check Yes Or No” as if Strait had introduced a guest artist to the stage—which he later did, three in fact, throughout the set.
Opener Sheryl Crow returned to join Strait for “Here For A Good Time.” The musical chemistry and complementary tones of their voices are undeniable. Eric Church brought swagger and an impassioned performance of “Cowboys Like Us,” while the crowd’s cell phone camera flashes lit up the room when an unassuming Kenny Chesney walked onstage. Instead of performing their duet “Shiftwork” from Chesney’s Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates project, Chesney joined Strait for the classic “Amarillo By Morning.” Numerous fan favorites followed, as Strait offered “Ocean Front Property,” “Marina Del Rey,” “River of Love,” “I Saw God Today,” and “Fool Hearted Memory,” among others.
The crowd hung onto every word, whether it was “Unwound,” or “I Believe,” which was penned after the school shooting tragedy in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. “More than anything it is a song about faith. We all need a little faith; without faith, we have no hope,” said Strait.
Like his starched jeans and ever-present cowboy hat, Strait’s career and connection with his audience has been constant. He has spent all 30-plus years (and counting) at one label home, MCA Nashville—a longer stint at one imprint than Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings or George Jones. His chart-topping singles span more years than most Country legends. In a time when artists find ever more creative ways to initiate and maintain connection with fans, Strait does what he’s always done: deliver solid songs with minimal distractions. A tip of his hat, a pearly white smile, and a few guitar strums are all this troubadour needs to accent his stable of hits.
With the last chord of “Unwound” behind him, Strait took a leisurely stroll around the diamond-shaped stage, allowing fans from every vantage point in the arena to say their farewell to the entertainer affectionately known as “King George.”
As the lights went out, the crowd used their collective cell phone lights to create a glow throughout the arena. In that haunting moment, tens of thousands of fans cheered, clapped, shouted and called for their favorite performer, but the stage was dark—and empty.
Luckily, Strait obliged the (loud) request for an encore, treating the crowd to “All My Ex’s Live In Texas.” The line That’s why I hang my hat in Tennessee was particularly loved by this Music City crowd. Undoubtedly the evening’s most unexpected cover was a rendition of Tom Petty’s “You Wreck Me,” which Strait’s effortless voice handled with ease, and his cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” could have been the national anthem, judging from the crowd’s instantaneous singalong. Strait ended with the tour’s namesake tune, “The Cowboy Rides Away.”
Thanking and waving to the crowd one last time, he walked unassumingly from the stage, having entertained for two and a half hours. He rode in on a song in 1981, and rode out of Nashville that evening a class act, having forged a textbook career that countless artists have tried to recreate, but few, if any, ever will.
Good ride cowboy. Good ride.
Sheryl Crow, an established headliner in her own right, opened the show with her blend of folk, rock and Country. Her set list includes many of her pop hits including “All I Wanna Do,” and “My Favorite Mistake,” though Crow made it clear that her musical influences are steeped in Country. She recalled how she first watched Strait perform years ago in Jonesboro, Ark., and named Jessi Colter, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton among her influences.
She also proved that her voice, a beautifully versatile instrument, can handle breezy, whispery uptempo songs such as her signature “Soak Up The Sun” and “Everyday Is A Winding Road” and vocally challenging compositions such as the heart-tugging single mom ballad “Waterproof Mascara” (co-written with Chris DuBois and Brad Paisley) with equal aplomb. Perhaps her biggest crowd response came with “Redemption Day,” which was recorded by Johnny Cash in the midst of his final recording years. She owned the stage like the touring veteran that she is, bringing a rock sensibility and an engaging, pure Country vocal that thrilled the Music City audience.
The Cowboy Rides Away Tour George Strait Set List
1. “The Fireman”
2. “Check Yes Or No”
3. “Ocean Front Property”
4. “Marina Del Rey”
5. “Blame It On Mexico”
6. “Fire I Can’t Put Out”
7. “Nobody In His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her”
8. “Arkansas Dave”
9. “Here For A Good Time” (featuring Sheryl Crow)
10. “When Did You Stop Loving Me”
11. “River Of Love”
12. “You Look So Good In Love”
13. “How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls”
14. “Cowboys Like Us” (featuring Eric Church)
15. “I Saw God Today”
16. “Still Make Cheyenne”
17. “Drinkin’ Man”
18. “I Believe”
19. “Give It Away”
20. “Fool Hearted Memory”
21. “Amarillo By Morning” (featuring Kenny Chesney)
22. “Give It All We Got Tonight”
23. “The Chair”
24. “I Got A Car”
25. “I’ll Always Remember You”
28. “You Wreck Me” (Tom Petty cover)
29. “All My Ex’s Live In Texas”
31. “Folsom Prison Blues” (Johnny Cash cover)
32. “The Cowboy Rides Away”
Powered by Facebook Comments
About the AuthorJessica Nicholson is a staff writer with MusicRow Enterprises. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine, TasteofCountry.com and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]
View Author Profile