Fans Pack The Pit For Strait
 
Country Music Superstar Has Triumphant Return
 
BY DAN MAYFIELD Journal Staff Writer
March 7, 2008
At last. After holding on to it for almost six years, Amanda Goodwin got a chance Thursday night to wear her grandmother’s George Strait shirt.

Goodwin and her husband, John, were among the almost 16,000 people crowded into the Pit on Thursday night to see George Strait, the king of country, play. It was a sellout crowd packed with black felt, big belt buckles and even bigger grins as Strait played in Albuquerque for the first time in several years.

Strait strolled on stage on time with a yellow and blue plaid shirt and his trademark black hat. The crowd let out a deafening roar as he started playing “Honk If You Honky Tonk,” then really erupted for “Ocean Front Property.”

It was a special night for the Goodwins.

The two, who were married last August, took their first dance to a Strait song.

But it was Amanda’s grandmother, Mary Easterling, who was the superfan. She collected every CD, box set and poster. She kept logs of when Strait’s songs hit the top 20, and handed down to Amanda a 6-foot-tall George Strait stand-up cardboard cutout.

“My grandma had ’em all,” Amanda said. “She had every book, every CD. She gave them to me when she died.”

John couldn’t remember which Strait song the pair danced to at their wedding, but he can recite lyrics from every Strait song, including such hits as “Amarillo by Morning” and “The Chair.”

“We’re just happy to be here seeing him,” John said. “He’s just straight county. Oh, there’s Garth (Brooks), but he’s rock. It’s too loud.”

And most in the audience appreciated Strait’s attention to old country detail, like his simple way with his fiddle and acoustic guitar — which was a far cry from opening band Little Big Town, which rocked on “Go Your Own Way,” the Fleetwood Mac song.

Several at Thursday’s show are superfans. Xavier Garcia and Johnny Martinez have traveled the country to see Strait play, from last year’s show in Las Cruces to shows in San Diego.

“This is my 12th time. I like his music. It’s down to earth, about living, breakups and broken hearts,” Martinez said.

“I’ve seen him seven or eight,” Garcia said. “He’s not one that really moves around a lot.”

Nobody even comes close, the fans say, to Strait. When it comes to country music superstars, he’s the one man who’s remained on top.

“Even to the people in country, in the industry, they call him King George. He’s front and center,” said Tony Lynn, host of the morning show Tony Lynn and Myles on KBQI-FM 107.9. “Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, maybe, people will call in (to the station). Tim will sell out, but I don’t know if you get the same fervor. George sold out fairly fast.”

For Strait, it’s all about the numbers. He’s scored 55 No. 1 hit singles in 25 years, 33 more Top 10 singles and 29 No. 1 records.

“The most popular are ‘Amarillo by Morning’ and ‘Cross My Heart,’ ’’ Lynn said.

Only Conway Twitty comes close, with 41 No. 1 hits.

And still, the success keeps coming.

Strait will release his new record, “Troubadour,” on April 1, and if you were expecting him to make a misstep, you were wrong. The first single off the record, “I Saw God Today,” debuted at No. 19 on Billboard’s country charts last week.

But on stage, Strait is not a dynamic performer. He simply stands and plays his guitar.

“I used to not like that,” Lynn said. “Then, one time I saw him perform at Tingley and the lights went out. Then, I got it. I understood.”

He can play and sing and relax on stage and draw an audience in with a simple charm and cocked smile that guys like Brooks or Toby Keith simply can’t — or won’t — show.

Strait likes to just play his songs and doesn’t rely on flashy dancers, fireworks or stage shows.

Strait a