George Strait says farewell with a bounty of class and country classics
 
By TIMOTHY FINN,,,The Kansas City Star
 
If Saturday night’s concert at the Sprint Center truly was George Strait’s final live performance in Kansas City, he said farewell in his typical fashion: with an abundance of grace and class and a long, lively show filled with favorites and hits.

For two hours and 20 minutes, Strait and his spit-shined 11-piece orchestra, the Ace in the Hole Band, issued almost three dozen almost three dozen songs, mining a catalog that comprises more than two dozen studio albums and more than four dozen No. 1 country songs and goes back almost 33 years.

As he announced the two-year Cowboy Rides Away Tour, launched in January 2013, Strait said it would be his final tour. He has since backpedaled a bit from that declaration, but the crowd of 18,000-plus that filled the Sprint Center on Saturday wasn’t taking any chances. All night it showered him with long, thunderous ovations and expressions of appreciation and love.

Eric Church, a modern-country star who can fill an arena on his own, opened the night with a 75-minute solo-acoustic set — no easy feat before an arena filled to the rafters. He handled his duties with humility and ease, delivering coffeehouse versions of some of his best-known songs, including “Guys Like Me,” “Creepin’,” “Jack Daniels,” “Smoke a Little Smoke” and “Springsteen,” which featured a bit of “I’m on Fire.” He also joined Strait on stage for two numbers: “Cowboys Like Us” and “Easy Come, Easy Go.”

The juxtaposition was telling. Church is among the reign of country singers who like to sing about what country is (trucks, beer, blue jeans and boots, small towns and dirt roads). Strait, on the other hand, just is country — a true cowboy who sings about life and love and the hard-living and hard lessons they entail.

The stage was set in the middle of the arena floor, a microphone at each corner so Strait could play to the entire arena. Above him, four large video screens broadcast images from the stage plus video footage and photographs of Strait throughout his career.

He opened with “The Fireman,” a song that goes back to 1984, and then, like a jukebox loaded with quarters, delivered 32 more songs, one hit after the other. The only pauses came when he introduced his band or briefly introduced a song or the seven or eight times his audience took over and showered him with a prolonged uproar of applause and cheers. He will turn 62 this year, but he has maintained a voice that is among the best in country music.

About halfway through, he stopped the music to honor a military veteran and his wife, the recipients of a home and other gifts through Homes 4 Wounded Heroes, a program that Strait, an Army veteran, has long supported. He followed that ceremony appropriately with one of his more recent hits, “Give It Away,” a song about love in tatters.

There were plenty of highlights and bright moments, but a few songs prompted explosive ovations and loud sing-alongs, especially “I Can Still Make Cheyenne” and “Amarillo By Morning,” one of his greatest hits.

The set list included tracks from his latest album, “Love Is Everything,” including “That’s What Breaking Hearts Do,” a song he co-wrote with his son Bubba.

He closed with one of his most beloved songs, “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” a cover of “Folsom Prison Blues” and then his swan song, “The Cowboy Rides Away.”

Strait is a prolific recording artist. Since 2000, he has released nine studio albums and has plans to release more, which seems to make it likely that he will tour again, at least intermittently.

Watching him take in all that love from a big crowd, it seemed hard to believe that this was his last goodbye. Let’s hope not. His country needs him.