George Strait's got it all
If contemporary country music’s evolution during the past few years makes you feel a little uneasy, George Strait has the cure. He rides into Las Vegas semi-regularly to offer country traditionalist treatments as part of his Strait to Vegas residency. The concerts are history lessons in the last three decades of excellence in Texas-to-Nashville songwriting, courtesy of an interpreter who personifies high-lonesome and honky-tonk authenticity.
Not that the Country Music Hall of Famer doesn’t write himself—he just has so many writers giving him their best that his current live sets are canons of classic compositions. Strait has 61 No. 1 hits across the spectrum of chart categories, more than any other performer, making him the undisputed King of Country. The lifelong Texas rancher brought country back from urban cowboy slickness in the early ’80s, looking good onstage in the cowboy hats he’s worn since playing in a western swing band while serving on an army base in Hawaii in the early ’70s.
He joined Ace in the Hole in 1975, which became his backing band when he became a solo recording artist in the 1980s. While Strait retired from regular performing in 2014 with the Cowboy Rides Away Tour, he still gives his live band plenty of work, playing two-night engagements in places like Tulsa and headlining festivals. The upcoming Vegas shows will be especially poignant, though, as they will be the first without late drummer Mike Kennedy (who had been with the Ace in the Hole Band since 1992), the sole fatality in a three-car accident in August outside of Lebanon, Tenn. He was 59.
Strait started his country career picking out Hank Williams songs, developed his voice singing George Jones songs, and developed a taste for western swing pioneer Bob Wills (who popularized the country-western look Nashville became known for) through his appreciation of Merle Haggard. He had great stage presence from the get-go, a voice that flowed like honey-flavored whiskey and a knack for making connections that would enhance his career later. Songwriter Darrell Staedtler first caught him leading Ace in the Hole at Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, Texas, where co-eds could catch Strait singing and drink free from a keg for 50 cents admission.
Staedtler wrote material that Strait would record his first album and “A Fire I Can’t Put Out” on his second, which Strait still plays in concert. Byron Hill gave Strait “Fool Hearted Memory,” which became his first country-chart topping single in 1982. Aaron Barker was selling oranges roadside in San Antonio when he got a royalty check in the mail for Strait’s cover of “Baby Blue” and would go on to write dozens more for him, while fellow Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer Dean Dillon (“Tennessee Whiskey”) has contributed to more than 50 songs, including collaborations with legendary penner Hank Cochran (“The Chair”, “Ocean Front Property”).
Strait to Vegas is more than just a residency. It’s a tribute to greatness in country music by one of its greatest troubadours who, while no longer on the road for a long time, still provides a good time when he’s here.
T-Mobile Arena, 8 p.m. Dec. 7-8, starting at $50 plus tax and fee. 888.929.7849 AXS