By Matt Kelemen
Although George Strait says he’ll continue to record as long as he can, The Cowboy Rides Away Tour may be the last chance for several generations of fans to catch the King of Country. The ranch-raised Texan arguably earned his crown since bursting onto an early ’80s country scene that was still hungover from the pop-country crossover ’70s. Strait proudly wore his cowboy hat as he led the neo-traditionalist charge and scored hit after hit throughout the decade and beyond, from songs that established his strength (“Amarillo by Morning”) to instant classics that became part of the country-music canon (“All My Exes Live in Texas”).
Strait was already a living legend on his way to recognition by the Country Music Hall of Fame—inducted in 2006—when Martina McBride made her debut in 1991. Part of a generation that included Faith Hill and Shania Twain, McBride toed the traditionalist line at first but found bigger success as the new crossover emerged in the ’90s. McBride’s growth as an artist was recognized by Las Vegas last year when she was asked to perform at the opening of The Smith Center for the Performing Arts. But being the first singer asked to share the bill with a country legend heading for his last rodeo is a special honor of its own.