George Strait Says Farewell in Hit-Filled Show at Staples Center
The country legend played both his classics and new songs to a wildly enthusiastic audience that included 'Duck Dynasty's' Willie and Korie Robertson
'I can't believe it took me this long to play here,' the reigning CMA entertainer of the year said early on in the night of the latest stop on his two-year tour. He added that he would be 'playing some old stuff ... stuff we haven't really played in a long time.'
Kicking off with 'The Fireman,' Strait also included in his set list such classics as 'Ocean Front Property,' 'Check Yes or No' and 'I Saw God Today.' Drawing some of the biggest cheers (and sing-alongs from the audience) were 'Amarillo by Morning' and 'All My Ex's Live in Texas,' the latter of which he reserved for the encore, which also included 'The Cowboy Rides Away' as well as a cover of Cash's 'Folsom Prison Blues.' (However, any fans of Strait's acting debut, the 1992 feature film Pure Country, were likely disappointed. None of the hit soundtrack's songs -- including 'I Cross My Heart,' 'Heartland' and 'When Did You Stop Loving Me' -- were part of his set list.)
The stage setup -- a diamond in the center of the staples floor -- found Strait shifting to one of four microphones installed at each corner every few songs, ensuring that each section of the crowd had a straight-on view of the singer at several points throughout the night. And those he was singing toward remained on their feet.
At the beginning of the show, Strait promised lots of 'surprises,' which included opening act Martina McBride joining him on two songs, including Billy Edd Wheeler's 'Jackson' and George Jones and Tammy Wynette's 'Golden Ring.' (Strait was backed by his 11-member Ace in the Hole band, which included a steel guitar player, fiddle player and keyboardist.)
As he has on other tour stops, Strait also included a soldier's tribute in partnership with the Military Warriors Support Foundation. As part of the emotional moment, a war hero was brought onstage and presented with a new house, big-screen TV, free groceries for a year and -- in an announcement that drew extra applause -- every album that Strait has ever recorded. (It was after this tribute that Duck Dynasty's Robertsons were shown on the big screens above the stage, with Willie stopping the exiting soldier to embrace him.)
Another emotional moment came during Strait's performance of 'I'll Always Remember You,' when he paid special tribute to his fans. 'When I first set out on the road, I thought I'd be lucky to do it five years. Now it's been 30 years,' he said, promising that 'when I walk off the stage for the last time, I'll still remember the screams and cheers.'
In addition to the classic crowd-pleasers, Strait also performed some singles off his latest album, Love Is Everything, including 'I Got a Car' and 'I Believe.' The latter, he explained, was inspired by the December 2012 school-shooting tragedy in Newtown, Conn.
For her part, McBride warmed up the audience with a solid, nearly 90-minute set that could have easily sufficed as her own headlining tour. McBride sang her own slew of hits, from 'Wild Angels' to 'Independence Day,' and earned a minute-long standing ovation following 'A Broken Wing' that she admitted nearly brought her to tears.