(Photo: Jill Trunnell)
George Strait at Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, TN, March 1, 2013
It’s mind-blowing to consider that George Strait, the indisputable King of Country Music, is going for his 60th No. 1 hit with his current single, “Give It All We’ve Got Tonight.” It’s also tough for fans, myself very much included, to swallow the hard truth that he’s hanging up his road hat after more than 30 years of steady touring. But he’s going to keep making albums. Whew. The Beatles did it in ’66, so why not him? So the Strait-faithful piled into Knoxville’s Thompson-Boling Arena loaded up on nostalgia and expectations for the Cowboy Rides Away Tour.
The trusty 11-piece Ace In The Hole Band was tight as ever as Strait started plowing through a 30 plus song set. After he played a few hits from recent memory like “Here for a Good Time” and “I Saw God Today”, and delivering a stirring rendition of Jesse Winchester’s “A Showman’s Life”, opener Martina McBride accompanied him on country classics “Jackson” and “Golden Ring.” Then Strait took to the guitar/stool format to reel off a string of deep cuts, album by album, beginning with his 1981 debut Straight From The Heart. And since he’s known for being the quiet type at his shows, it was a pleasant and fitting surprise that he spoke a few words to introduce the songs. Some of these included “Blame It On Mexico,” “Her Goodbye Hit Me In The Heart,” and “80 Proof Bottle of Tear Stopper”.
A highlight of the night came when legendary songwriter Dean Dillon, Strait’s most consistent go-to hit maker and more recent co-writer, joined Strait onstage to reflect and duet “Honky Tonk Crazy” (Dillon/Frank Dycus). Then came a barrage of crowd-pleasing standards like “Marina Del Ray,” “King of Broken Hearts,” “The Chair,” “Give It Away,” and many more. He played a “new one” — “Middle Age Crazy”, a Jerry Lee Lewis song written by the great Sonny Throckmorton (“The Fireman”). Maybe it will show up on his next album. “Troubadour” (Monty Holmes/Leslie Satcher), the title track of Strait’s 2008 album and a bona fide heartstring-tugger, served as the soundtrack for his life in pictures via the big screen video—from the coming-of-age young buck to the wise-and-weathered Texas artist and statesman who stood before us. “The truth about a mirror/Is that a damned ol’ mirror/Don’t really tell the whole truth/It don’t tell what’s deep inside/Or read between the lines/And it’s really no reflection of my youth.”
Strait closed the main set with “Unwound”, and then the rousing encore included “Same Kind of Crazy”, “All My Ex’s Live In Texas”, “Folsom Prision Blues” and “The Cowboy Rides Away,” a perfect ending to a more than memorable night. Don’t miss the opportunity to catch a show on this pivotal going-away tour.