Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Essential Broadcast Media
ANNIE REUTER •Sounds Like Nashville
George Strait made a triumphant return to the stage last night (April 22), in Las Vegas. Performing for over two hours, his set spanned more than 30 songs in his catalogue including No. 1 hits, new tracks off his latest release, Cold Beer Conversation,and several Merle Haggard covers.
The King of Country launched his Strait to Vegas concert series to a sold-out crowd of 19,222 fans nearly two years since his Cowboy Rides Away Tour saw him retire from the road. Throughout his memorable performance Strait continually thanked the audience, who showed up in record number to attend the first night of his show at the new Las Vegas venue T-Mobile Arena.
Dressed in his signature Wrangler shirt, denim, boots and black Resistol cowboy hat, the entire venue erupted as Strait took the stage. He needed no introduction as he immediately went into a spirited performance of “Here For a Good Time” and “She’ll Leave You with a Smile.”
“Thank you Las Vegas!” he said three songs into his set. “It’s so good to be back. I’m back! I’ve missed y’all and I’m looking forward to being here a few more nights this year. We’ve got a lot of songs to play for you tonight.”
Strait’s set included several of his 60 career No. 1 singles like “Give It All We’ve Got Tonight,” “Ocean Front Property” and “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” among others, all of which had the audience on their feet and singing along. Throughout the evening, he’d speak of the origin of some of his songs including “Blame It On Mexico,” which he said he recorded during one of his first trips to Nashville, and “I’ll Always Remember You,” a song he wrote with his son about his fans.
“I don’t know how many more years I’ve got left to do this. I want you to know though, when I do walk off this stage for the last time you won’t be far away,” he said during the song. “I’ll still hear your screams and cheers in my mind and I will always remember you.”
The screams were heard loud and clear last night at T-Mobile Arena. The stage was set up in the round in the center of the venue and had Strait alternating between several microphones on each side of the arena. As he approached one, the fans in that area stood on their feet and stayed there until the close of the song, something Strait noticed and took a bow in recognition each time, often placing his hand on his heart to show his appreciation.
Additional highlights included fan favorites “Amarillo By Morning,” which Strait said he used to perform in honky tonks and soon after received a standing ovation, the memorable “Blue Clear Sky,” the poignant “The Chair” and the energetic “The Fireman.” As he sang the nostalgic “Troubadour,” a montage of photos from his career and family life displayed on screen behind him giving the song heightened meaning.
While the night was no doubt Strait’s, he took some time to remember an old friend and inspiration, Merle Haggard, who passed away on April 6.
“A couple weeks ago we lost a huge icon in country music, Mr. Merle Haggard,” Strait said solemnly. “It was such a sad day for all of us because he was such a huge influence on me and all the guys here and I know you, too. It’s so sad that we’ll never get to see Merle perform live again. His music will live on forever. We’re going to do a tribute to Mr. Merle Haggard right now.”
Strait and his Ace in the Hole Band then launched into a medley of Haggard’s staples including “Mama Tried,” “Fightin’ Side of Me,” and “My Life’s Been Grand.”
“You’re such a great audience tonight. Hope you had a good time everybody. See you tomorrow!” he said before exiting his stage for the first time that evening.
The audience wouldn’t let The King leave without playing an encore, though, and the room erupted once he and his band walked back on the stage minutes later.
“Well thank you very much. Yes, we will play on!” he told the crowd with a smile.
And with that, Strait played a four-song encore of “I Saw God Today,” “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and the fitting set closer, “The Cowboy Rides Away.”
There were no fireworks, confetti or pyrotechnics set off throughout the evening, just a man, his songs and a guitar which is exactly what everyone came to see. With a career that spans more than three decades, Strait continues to set records and his Strait to Vegas show proves that quality music will always prevail. While the cowboy may no longer be making stops on the road, fans can catch Strait in Las Vegas in the coming months. He returns tonight for his second sold-out Strait to Vegas concert date. The concert series includes additional two-run stints on September 9-10 and December 2-3 of this year as well as Feb. 17-18 of 2017.
Kacey Musgraves serves as opener throughout the Strait to Vegas 2016 concert dates and impressed last night with an hour set of her own. Dressed from head to toe in white sequins, the country singer demonstrated why she’s one of country music’s unique voices with songs off her two critically acclaimed albums, Same Trailer Different Park and Pageant Material. There were songs she dedicated to “the really weird people in your family,” like the appropriately titled “Family Is Family,” the old-timey “High Time,” and previous singles “Biscuits,” “Follow Your Arrow” and “Merry Go ‘Round,” which she said is the song that started it all for her. She closed her set with an animated cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” as her boots lit up the stage.
“I cannot tell you what an honor it is for me to be here tonight,” she said. “Thank you so much for showing up early. It means a lot to this girl from Texas who is a massive George Strait fan.”
George Strait Plays Hits, Haggard at Triumphant Vegas Concert
After two years of "touring retirement," the King of Country returns to the stage
BY DOUG FISHER April 23, 2016
George Strait performed hits and a tribute to Merle Haggard at his first concert in two years last night in Las Vegas. Ethan Miller/GettyImages
The cowboy rode away nearly two years ago, but you would have never known it listening to his strong and distinctly country voice on Friday.
After a long-celebrated final tour, George Strait returned to the stage last night for the first time since June 2014, the first of a series of shows in Las Vegas, and the King of Country didn't miss a beat.
"It's so good to be back," Strait told the sold-out crowd at the recently opened T-Mobile Arena. "I miss all y'all. I've been looking forward to this for a long, long time."
To be fair, Strait never said that he was done playing shows in 2014, only that he was done "touring" at the time.
And he looked right at home back in the spotlight, as he breezed through a two-hour set of 33 songs, including hits like "Run," "The Chair" and "All My Ex's Live in Texas." But the show was far from a greatest-hits retread, thanks to newer songs like "Cold Beer Conversation" and "Goin' Goin' Gone."
Thirty-five years after his debut single "Unwound" hit radio, the King of Country remains the consummate entertainer. Even if that doesn't include mad gallops across his stage — in the round, as is his custom — or dynamic set pieces. For Strait, simplicity rules.
While most of the songs were from his own catalog, Strait also led the crowd through a tribute to the late Merle Haggard, performing "Mama Tried," "The Fightin' Side of Me" and "My Life's Been Grand" as a medley. Though celebratory, it added a touch of melancholy to an upbeat show.
"It was such a sad day for all of us because he was such a huge influence on my and all the guys up here," Stait said of Haggard. "It's so sad that we'll never be able to see Merle perform live again. His music will live on forever."
While his last touring show in Arlington, Texas, two years ago featured a slew of guests, his Vegas kickoff was all about Strait — and his fans. He satisfied the crowd with "The Fireman" and "Amarillo by Morning," but also tossed in "You Look So Good in Love" for the diehards who have rarely seen him perform the 1983 ballad live.
Kacey Musgraves opened the show, leading a miniature horse to the stage. Ethan Miller/GettyImages
The night began with Kacey Musgraves in the opening slot, walking to the stage with a mini horse. The visual wasn't lost on Strait.
"We were very fortunate to have a great talent come along with us in Kacey Musgraves," he said, adding, "I gotta get me one of those horses."
For the 20,000 in attendance, though, they got everything they wanted from Strait. And even after two years, it was well worth the wait.
Strait will return to the T-Mobile Arena for a second show tonight, with four more Vegas engagements slotted through the end of the year.