Aftermath escaped the first day of the inaugural Free Press Summer Fest to venture out to Reliant Stadium to catch country legend George Strait. It was like walking into a hella weird alternate universe where the musicians weren't five inches from your face, and everyone was fully clothed. Those who detest country music or are close-minded to anything un-indie would be very surprised to find that country crowds have a ravenous nature for their music that puts any sedate hipster-laden show to shame. Country fans, especially those of the variety only heard on terrestrial radio or CMT, are a fiercely fanatical breed. They see no problem in spending $100 and $125 dollars for a floor seat that still puts them half a football field away from their idol. There is simply a mania afoot not found anywhere else, except maybe Tejano gigs. A fellow journalist sitting next to us brought up that point as throngs of people rushed the stage from other seating sections armed with all variations of digital camera to catch a shot of Strait - so much so that police officers and venue staff could not quell them or their myriad excuses each had for their Straitmania.
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Fanaticism for Strait is not new to Aftermath, seeing that we blogged about this concert appearance probably as much as we covered Michael Jackson's death. The country picker just seems to bring out an overtly Texan inflection in us that we can't deny. And Saturday night he came forth with nearly 30 years of hit-making ammunition, backed by the Ace in the Hole Band. Starting with "Write This Down," Aftermath and the sold-out crowd would not and could not stop singing along. These songs are ingrained in our brains, almost like Texas' heartbroken hymns. Strait was Aftermath's very first live music experience way back in 1987 when he was all of four years old. The AHB is now augmented by a few younger cats by they fire on all cylinders just as good as they did at their first rodeo appearance.
These songs mean nearly a million different things to each person in the crowd. Strait is a family tradition handed down. Fans of all ages stared in awe at the man on the giant plasma screens or saw fit to two-step in the aisles. Men foisted beers in the air during "Ocean Front Property" in exact affirmation. Strait always seems to snatch us guys up when the door gets shut on us or we find ourselves wallowing at a beer hall. He's like the silent friend in the corner with the deafening advice you need to hear. "Heartland," from the Pure Country soundtrack, never feels right without Strait dressed up as his character Dusty from that movie. It's the closest that Strait will get to a Springsteen-style barn-burner like "Born To Run." The show was heavy on Strait's bedrock hits since it was being filmed for an upcoming concert DVD, which no doubt lead to its high-gloss dynamic. The lone newer cut was last year's "Troubadour," with its late life lamentation and career-spanning video projected on Reliant's massive screens. There were video cameras and crews all over the venue getting footage of young and old couple slow dancing in the aisles to "The Chair." Aftermath felt left out for not having someone there to dance with, but he probably couldn't have been too suave in flip-flops. After an encore break that lasted all of two minutes, Strait and band returned for a quick shot of early Ace in the Hole Band-era hits and a cover of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" given a new coat of Strait lacquer. Nearing the two-hour mark, Strait launched into "The Cowboy Rides Away" from 1984's Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind, which signals the end of most if not all Strait concerts. It's hard to define what exactly brings everyone to the George Strait table. Growing up and listening to his mother, Aftermath always thought it was his "tight butt," or the way Strait made his uncles feel better after each divorce. Watching the generations spewing out of Reliant Stadium it was plain to see that what Strait does to us can't be quantified by hits or sold-out shows. He's ingrained in Texans as much as Whataburger and the Alamo. His songs soundtrack each milestone in their lives the world over.