George Strait: The Cowboy Rides Away Tour In Houston
 

 
RodeoHouston isn’t the reason George Strait is a superstar. He can thank his aw-shucks demeanor, pure country voice and sturdy catalog for that. But the annual event certainly helped put him on a legendary path.

Strait made his 21st appearance Sunday night to close out RodeoHouston with a concert-only appearance. No bulls. No barrel racing. No mutton bustin’. Just Strait country. It’s part of his farewell The Cowboy Rides Away Tour.

“Seems like yesterday it was 1983 over there in the old Astrodome. Lucky for me, Eddie Rabbit got sick,” Strait quipped.

That auspicious ’83 debut helped establish Strait as a musical force. His 2002 performance closed out RodeoHouston in the Astrodome and holds the venue attendance record. He’s one of five entertainers to have performed in front of more than 1 million RodeoHouston fans, and Sunday’s show drew a whopping 80,020 folks, including Pat Green and Kings of Leon bassist Jared Followill. That breaks both the Reliant Stadium and RodeoHouston paid attendance records. (This year’s Go Tejano Day show, featuring Julion Alvarez and Los Invasores de Nuevo Leon, still holds the No. 1 one spot at 75,305 for a performance including rodeo action.)

Earlier in the day, Strait was honored with a rededication ceremony on the Star Trail of Fame and elevated him to a platinum honoree. The George Strait Scholarship was also announced.

Onstage, all he needed was a black cowboy hat, a guitar and that million-dollar smile. Seats surrounded the “lazy man’s” rotating stage, and couples waltzed across the floor and in the aisles.

A trio of tunes — “Here for a Good Time,” “Ocean Front Property,” “Check Yes or No. — set the toe-tapping mood. Strait, as most folks know, isn’t a flashy performer. But he was chatty between songs and had a twinkle in his eye.

“Drinkin’ Man” was a somber highlight, and the feel-good “Love’s Gonna Make it Alright” quickly brought things back up. Opener Martina McBride joined Strait classic-country duets “Jackson” and “Golden Ring,” and they exuded a nice chemistry.

Strait spent a good portion of the show taking fans chronologically through his discography, a master class in country music. He went all the way back to 1981 debut album “Strait Country” for “Blame It On Mexico” and “Her Goodbye Hit Me in the Heart.”

The setlist cycled through “80 Proof Bottle of Tear Stopper,” “Honky Tonk Crazy,” Marina Del Rey” and “A Fire I Can’t Put Out.” Strait moved effortlessly from fiery to laid-back cool. No one does it quite like him.

The cheers grew louder as the evening progressed, and the energy surged through the stadium as he tore through “The King of Broken Hearts” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” By the time he mosied on up to “The Chair” much of the crowd was on its feet (and stayed there).

McBride has a tendency to go sentimental on record, but she’s able to send a jolt of electricity through most any song onstage. She closed with “A Broken Wing,” and much of the crowd was singing along.
The Strait show caps a season that hit record-breaking highs (Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan); boasted pop dazzle (Bruno Mars, Pitbull); and sometimes landed with a thud (Toby Keith, Brantley Gilbert).
There are carps, complaints and criticisms every year. (Who’s he? Why her? More classic country! Bring back Tejano music!) But assembling a three-week run that appeals to so many demographics is no easy task. And lots of folks apparently still enjoy it. Total attendance this year was 2.5 million, another all-time record.

And everyone, Texan or otherwise, can agree on King George.