George Strait Reliant Stadium March 17, 2013
Sunday night, George Strait wrangled 80,020 fans into Reliant Stadium for what is sure to be just one of his first "farewell" shows here in Houston. This glut of country fans -- only a few thousand short of the total population of Santa Monica, California -- broke both RodeoHouston and the stadium itself's all-time attendance records, packing the house to see Strait, Martina McBride and the Randy Rogers Band close this rodeo season.
The previous record lasted only a week. Last Sunday's 75,305-strong Go Tejano Day crowd was easily trounced by Strait's posse.
McBride and the RRB opened the night early, with the RRB only playing a handful of songs during their abbreviated but nonetheless crowd-pleasing set. The stalwart Texas country act isn't quite to the point of headlining a RodeoHouston evening themselves, but they could be with a big push à la the Eli Young Band.
The more established McBride held court for longer than the RRB, and her direct opening set didn't complement Strait's so much as it added a well-needed shot of femme to the evening. Strait's sometime touring mate Reba McEntire also fits well with him, though her sitcom duties are probably curbing any touring plans for now.
Strait remains the capital-K King of Country more than 30 years into his run, obviously. Every wave of his hand made the venue erupt, and Reliant Stadium could barely contain the love in the room for him.
Strait, though, remains something of an enigma for the press. He's not the most open personality. He doesn't see the need to air out every twist and turn of his life on social media, and his legend (the definition fits him) only seems to grow through the years as every subsequent male country singer attempts to at least grasp at what Strait's done since the early '80s.
Strait's luck with a great songwriter like Dean Dillon brings to mind the string of commercial successes that Elton John and Bernie Taupin saw during their heyday.
You won't see him as a judge on a reality show, and he won't be writing a tell-all memoir anytime soon.
For a member of the music press like myself, that is perhaps why he is still so interesting. His songs seem to mirror his audience more than himself, and he sings everyone else's life while we know relatively little about his own, other than through the stray interview or concert anecdote.
Sunday night's set list didn't sound like what you would call a last-hurrah collection, though, which solidifies my notion that this wasn't his last Houston go-round. The cowboy may very well be riding away, but he's taking his time.
Last September, Strait said that after 2014 he's done, but he seemed to leave the subject somewhat open-ended.
"I'm gonna miss that," he would say after each and every huge swelling of adoration.
I mean, how would he himself resist playing "Carrying Your Love with Me" during his final, final show in Houston? He didn't even leave on a horse. You gotta leave on a horse, Mr. Strait. Then I would know you are done.
I and Strait's legion of other big fans were left wanting to hear "The Fireman," "Fool Hearted Memory," "Heartland," "Blue Clear Sky," "Run," "True" and about a hundred other album cuts and singles.
But remember, this is a guy who has had nearly 60 No. 1 singles, so he has some wiggle room. The short way-way back set featuring a few early-'80s singles and other Gruene Hall favorites was a welcome deviation.
Halfway through the main set, Strait helped present a disabled military vet with a new house and other furnishings, courtesy of the Wounded Warrior folks. It was a touching moment, and something that Strait -- an Army vet himself -- has been doing at most every show on this tour. Of course, he then launched into the divorce anthem "Give It Away" right afterward.
At one point the floor of Reliant resembled a dance party, with a goodly number of the 7,500 seats on the floor being vacated by ticket-holders for the "dance floors" in the aisles and by the concession areas. The venue could have easily increased the 80K figure by selling strictly dancing-only passes.
The Crowd: Surely every single damned attractive country gal in a 300-mile radius was there last night, along with her husband, boyfriend or date. Tiny dresses and cowboy boots are Houston's equivalent of bluebonnets. You gotta catch a peek before they go away.
Seen in the Crowd: I spied Kings of Leon bassist Jared Followill milling around, catching the Strait show after partying for the past few days at SXSW.
Random Notebook Dump: Strait is woven into the fabric of Texas as much as Whataburger, the Alamo and Lone Star Beer. That's all I gotta say about that.
Here For a Good Time Ocean Front Property Check Yes or No I Saw God Today Drinkin' Man Love's Gonna Make It Alright Arkansas Dave Jackson (with Martina McBride) Golden Ring (with Martina McBride) Blame It On Mexico Her Goodbye Hit Me In the Heart 80 Proof Bottle of Tear Stopper Honky Tonk Crazy Marina Del Rey A Fire I Can't Put Out The King of Broken Hearts Where the Sidewalk Ends The Chair River of Love How 'Bout Them Cowgirls
(short break to give away new home and gifts to Wounded Warrior recipient)
Give It Away Middle Age Crazy Amarillo By Morning Give It All We Got Tonight I'll Always Remember You Troubadour Unwound
Same Kind Of Crazy All My Ex's Live In Texas Folsom Prison Blues The Cowboy Rides Away