ATLANTA — Despite retiring from full-time touring in 2014 after his Cowboy Rides Away Tour, George Strait still tours, just on his own terms.
That means residencies in Las Vegas and limited tour runs, including last weekend at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, a two-night November stand at the newly-minted Dickies Arena in Fort Worth and a couple other big stadium shows in Ohio and Massachusetts.
I was at Strait's Atlanta show last weekend, which featured three openers: Ashley McBryde, Chris Janson and a little young indie upstart named Chris Stapleton. Those three won't be opening for Strait when he comes to Fort Worth (that honor goes to Austin stalwarts Asleep At The Wheel), but if you're one of the lucky ones who snagged tickets for Strait's show in Fort Worth, here's what to expect.
1. The man can still command a stage
And as he well should. Strait's been in the country music business since 1975, has sang 60 songs to the top of the Billboard charts and has performed hundreds, if not thousands, of live shows in his time.
His live performance is down to an art, filling a setlist with more than 30 songs. I've never seen any artist command a crowd as easily as Strait did in Atlanta. He just had to smile and the crowd (which filed the Mercedes-Benz stadium) went nuts. I'm hard-pressed to even think of who else in country music has that kind of pull on people. Willie Nelson, maybe?
2. He'll play new songs, but will mostly stick to the hits
Of the 31 songs Strait played, three were from his new album "Honky Tonk Time Machine" and three were covers. The rest spanned his whole career, from "The Fireman" to "Run." Chances are your favorite Strait song will be played no matter which night you see him.
3. Strait's not one for much stage banter, but when he does speak to the crowd, it's worthwhile
When you've got 60 No. 1s and not a lot of time to play half of them, cutting down on the banter helps (a lesson opener Chris Janson, who was fond of telling the crowd about everything from his weight to his life story, could benefit from). But when introducing Merle Haggard cover "You Take Me For Granted," he joked that the song was written by Haggard's then-wife about him, and he sang it about her.
Elsewhere, he stopped the show to award a veteran with a new home through his charity the Wrangler National Patriot program and profusely thanked his fans.
4. He's generous to his openers
This won't be the same at the Fort Worth show, but in Atlanta, the concert started at 4 p.m. with a set from Ashley McBryde (who's fantastic, by the way). Strait didn't take the stage until after 8 p.m., giving his openers ample time to get the crowd ready. Expect more of the same with Asleep At The Wheel, who are Texas country royalty in their own right.
5. There might be a proposal or two
That's right, I witnessed not one, but two wedding proposals at this concert. Hope they both said "yes." King George only tours every so often, so a Strait show is a big date night event. Who knows? Maybe it'll happen in Fort Worth, too.
Check out the setlists for each artist below.
Setlists (* denotes new song):
- "Livin' Next to Leroy"
- "American Scandal"
- "Girl Goin' Nowhere"
- "Rattlesnake Preacher"*
- "A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega"
- "Tired of Being Happy"
- "Redneck Life"
- "Fix a Drink"
- "Good Vibes"
- "Waitin' On 5"*
- "Who's Your Farmer"
- "Your Cheatin' Heart" (Hank Williams cover)
- "White Trash"
- "A Country Boy Can Survive" (Hank Williams, Jr. cover)
- "Everybody's Going Through Something"*
- "Holding Her"
- "I Love This Life" (LOCASH cover; written by Janson, LOCASH and Danny Myrick)
- "Piano Man" (Billy Joel cover)
- "Drunk Girl"
- "Buy Me a Boat"
- "Midnight Train to Memphis"
- "Nobody to Blame"
- "Hard Livin'"
- "Fire Away"
- "Might As Well Get Stoned"
- "Was It 26"
- "Whiskey and You"
- "Broken Halos"
- "Second One to Know"
- "I Was Wrong"
- "The Devil Named Music" (With a "Freebird" intro)
- "Outlaw State of Mind"
- "Death Row"
- "Tennessee Whiskey"
- "Write This Down"
- "I Can Still Make Cheyenne"
- "I Saw God Today"
- "Here For a Good Time"
- "She'll Leave You With a Smile"
- "Check Yes Or No"
- "You Take Me For Granted" (Merle Haggard cover)
- "Are the Good Times Really Over" (Merle Haggard)
- "Cold Beer Conversation"
- "How 'Bout Them Cowgirls"
- "Arkansas Dave"
- "Give It Away"
- "It Just Comes Natural"
- "Every Little Honky Tonk Bar"*
- "Ocean Front Property"
- "Blue Clear Sky"
- "Weight of the Badge"*
- "Amarillo by Morning"
- "The Chair"
- "The Fireman"
- "I'll Always Remember You"
- "All My Ex's Live in Texas"
- "I Cross My Heart"
- "You Wreck Me" (Tom Petty cover)
- "The Cowboy Rides Away"