GEORGE STRAIT DELIVERS A STIRRING GOODBYE
 
KING OF COUNTRY BRIDGES OLD AND NEW GENERATIONS OF COUNTRY MUSIC FANS IN TOUR STOP AT VALLEY VIEW CASINO CENTER
 
Country legend George Strait took his fans on a journey Friday night.
Strait’s San Diego stop at the Valley View Casino Center was part of his farewell “Cowboy Rides Away” tour. Old hits were sung. Vintage photos were displayed. Moving mutual appreciation was shown.
But the sold-out concert wasn’t just a warm and comfy trip down memory lane. Strait’s swan song seemed to provide a bridge between divided country music followers, as if he’s taking the hands of sparring traditionalists and modernists and making them shake on a truce.
By traveling around the country with A-list stars like Jason Aldean, Eric Church and, in Friday’s case, Miranda Lambert, Strait is putting his hefty stamp of approval on the biggest names in “today’s country.” He’s drawing fans to arenas who might never have come to see the “King of Country,” perform stripped-down, no-frills classics like, “Amarillo by Morning,” “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” “Cowboys Like Us,” “Unwound” and “The Chair.”
See? It’s not so bad.
At the same time, he’s introducing his more mature, longtime audience to thrilling, albeit polarizing, new sounds — country pop, country rock and even country hip-hop.
See? It’s not so bad.
Clearly, the throngs who packed the sports arena were all in agreement that Strait is one of country’s greatest. The veteran singer from Poteet, Texas, now 61, has enjoyed more than 30 years of songwriting, hitmaking, record-breaking and award-winning success.
From when he walked calmly onto the square stage, carefully positioned in the center of the floor to afford the best vantage point to the most people, Strait had the crowd in the palm of his tanned, weathered hands. A mike was set up in each corner, so wherever your seat, you had one-fourth of the concert directly in front of you.
Throughout his 30-plus song set, The King was enveloped by serenading fans, uninterrupted cheers, tipped cowboy hats and even the hug of a boisterous young woman, who climbed on stage as he closed out the two-hour, 20-minute show with “The Cowboy Rides Away.” (She clearly meant no harm, but arena security was nowhere to be found when she breached the stage; two slow-moving Strait roadies didn’t even respond until she was back in the high-fiving embrace of her friends in the front row.)
Strait’s voice, while sometimes lacking the depth of his earlier years, remains clear and distinctive. And there is likely no other performer who is more aptly named. His style is as straightforward as it gets. Backed by his solid, longtime 11-member “Ace in Hole” band, Strait doesn’t aim to dazzle. No flashing lights, no bombast, no swiveling hips. Just a Wrangler-clad cowboy and his guitar.
Which isn’t to say the show was without dramatic highlights.
A stirring, mid-set two-song duet with Lambert was one. The biggest female country star today was positively giddy at even the thought of sharing a stage with such an icon. She told a story of how she first saw him at “Strait Fest” when she was 15, from the worst seats at Texas Stadium. Two years later, a boyfriend got them tickets and she moved up front.
“From the back row of Texas Stadium to the 12th row,” Lambert squealed, jumping up and down, “and now I’m standing her singing with the Kiiiiing!”
When she walked offstage, she pumped her fist in the air and exclaimed, “George Strait!”
We hear you, Miranda!
The night’s emotional highpoint came toward the end of the show, when Strait performed the fan-favorite, “I’ll Always Remember You.”
When he wrote the song a couple of years ago (with the help of his son, Bubba Strait), he explained, he wasn’t thinking of no longer touring. He just wanted to let his faithful followers know how much they’ve meant to him since he launched his career in 1981.
When I do walk off this stage for the last time,
And I'm all settled in, away from all this,
You won't be far away.
I'll still hear your screams and cheers in my mind.
And I'll always remember you.
A few songs later came the encore and then Strait left stage for good. People paused in front of their seats long after the lights came up. The cowboy was gone.