Country-music star's farewell is Strait from his heart

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 16, 2013 - 7:17 AM

Among the hits he sang at the farewell-tour concert was "I'll Always Remember You." His Minnesota fans will, too.

Every country-music farewell tour seems to deliver a different dominant emotion.

Alabama exited with a big joyous bang in 2004-05 (of course, now they're back, coming to theaters, festivals and Grand Casino in Hinckley), and Glen Campbell departed with a heart-tugging tear in 2012 (suffering from Alzheimer's, he forgot lyrics and the name of his daughter, who was performing with him).

On Friday at the sold-out Xcel Energy Center, George Strait rode off the same way he rode in -- with gentlemanly grace. It was an evening of warm fuzzies and comforting nostalgia.

Except for one moment.

Early in the night, Strait, 60 -- who will come to the end of the road after doing 21 shows this year and a similar number next year -- announced, "This might be the last roundup."

Many in the crowd of 18,132 booed.

"That's a good time to get booed," Strait responded without missing a beat. Then he cleverly launched into one of his biggest hits, "Check Yes or No."

All the fans -- the most cowboy/girl boot-wearingest crowd seen in a Twin Cities arena -- would have voted "No" for the notion of last roundup, but every one of them would have declared "Yes" to whether that was a darn good way to say "Bye, George."

His voice was a little deeper, creases complemented his dimples and he chatted more than ever in concert. The King of Country Music didn't want to exit by merely doing a run through some of his greatest hits (he has scored 44 No. 1 singles on Billboard's country chart, and he'll still record, hoping to add to his remarkable total).

He dusted off some numbers from early in his career, tunes he presented on his first trip to Nashville in 1978. It was almost as if he wanted to salute his songwriters, chiefly Dean Dillon and his son, Bubba Strait, as much as his own career.

"Arkansas Dave," by Bubba (Strait's more recent writing collaborator) sounded like a tribute to early Johnny Cash. And Strait tipped his hat to Cash by having opening act Martina McBride, Nashville's most gorgeous female voice, join him for "Jackson," the duet made famous by Cash and his wife, June Carter Cash. Heck, if it didn't look like Strait -- the button-down cowboy in more ways than one -- was having fun.

The good times continued with another duet, "Golden Ring," the George Jones/Tammy Wynette classic. Strait seemed to be having such a good time that after he shifted from the hit waltz "The Chair," he began dancing a bit on the lilting "River of Love," which, with its almost-reggae groove was about as out of the box as Strait got.

The country king is old-fashioned in sound and values. There were no trendy references to online, Ray Bans or Springsteen in songs. Just reassuring words about love, home and heartache, set to either a midtempo Texas dance-hall beat or a slow-dance ballad format.

Color him sentimental without being sappy.

But he did get a little worked up near the end of his two-hour set, as he talk-sang his way through "I'll Always Remember You," an ode to his fans that became overwhelmingly emotional.

Strait managed to perk things up in the encore, first with his honky-tonkin' two-steppin' favorite "All My Ex's Live in Texas" and then a rollicking version of Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," during which Strait had several members of his excellent Ace in the Hole Band take solos.

After singing the inevitable "The Cowboy Rides Away," the country king took a lap around his square in-the-round stage, waltzing and waving his way into his own sunset.

set list: www.startribune.com/artcetera

Twitter: @jonbream • 612-673-1719

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