NEWARK, N.J. -- “I’m a lucky girl, I get to tour with George freakin’ Strait!”
That giddy line didn’t come from some singing-show-winning ingenue thrust onto Strait’s “The Cowboy Rides Away Tour.”
No, that was Music Row diva Martina McBride sharing her appreciation to Strait at the Prudential Center Saturday night. The reverence that even country music’s elite has toward “King George” shows the impact of his career and the pilgrimage-like importance of those who came to see him one last time.
Between McBride and Strait’s sets Saturday night, songs played that featured “George Strait” in the lyrics by today’s country mainstays -- like Eric Church’s “Love Your Love The Most” and Greg Bates’ “Did It for the Girl.”
It’s a unique connection that Strait has maintained, sticking to a sound that has almost single-handedly kept the term “country-western” from expiring while still serving as an inspiration to those who bring more modern interpretations.
For Strait, little has changed, and that’s OK with everybody. It’s still a no-frills stage in the middle of the arena, the highlight being his Ace in the Hole Band.
The band filed in as Gretchen Wilson’s “Here for the Party,” blared, and moments later Strait joined them. He noted the finality of his tour name, but with the confidence of a performer who knew he was going out on top, added, “Not quite yet.”
He still rotates to all four corners of the stage between songs so everybody can get some face time. Sans pyrotechnics and glitzy backdrops, the surprise is always what of his monstrous song cache he’s going to play, combined with the ticket holder's total lack of disappointment even when a favorite is omitted. (It's kind of hard for that not to happen. This reporter has 72 of just his top-10 songs in his car right now, and that ain’t all of them!)
His set went more than 30 songs deep Saturday, singing just the opening lyrics to “Cowboy Rides Away” before being showered with applause to close things out.
Saturday’s performance is one of the lead-ups to the grand finale at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on June 7, featuring the likes of McBride, Church, Alan Jackson and Jason Aldean. Strait will still record and play “select” dates, according to a release.
That said, if this all turns out to be a tease and he goes the George Jones “I Don’t Need Your Rocking Chair” route by hitting the road again long-term, complaints will be at a minimum.
"Check Yes or No"
"Ocean Front Property"
"Blame It on Mexico"
"Fire I Can't Put Out"
"Nobody in His Right Mind"
"Here For a Food Time"
"Jackson" (with Martina McBride)
"Golden Rings" (with Martina McBride)
"River of Love"
"So Good in Love"
"How ’Bout Them Cowgirls"
"I Saw God Today"
"I Can Still Make Cheyenne"
"Breaking Hearts Do"
"Give It Away"
"Amarillo by Morning"
"I've Got a Car"
"I'll Always Remember You"
"Give It All You Got Tonight"
"All My Exes Live in Texas"
"Folsom Prison Blues"
"Cowboy Rides Away"