Monday, March 4, 2013

The Cowboy Rides Away

Here's a little more about our trip to Knoxville to see George Strait's last tour.

Some entertainers are worth seeing just because they are incredible performers, whether or not you are a huge fan.  I wouldn't count myself as an out-and-out Tony Bennett fan, but his show at Chastain was amazing.  Ray Charles?  Yes, please.  He held the crowd in the palm of his hand for ninety minutes.  In a different way, Bill and I went to see Billy Graham preach about fifteen years ago.  What an event (even if I like more intimate settings for my preaching)!

So even if I weren't a country music fan, George Strait would have been that type of show.  He's been performing for more than thirty years, and has more gold records than any other active recording artist.  He is something special.  (For the record, I'm a recent convert to country.  Maybe six or seven years.)

My Christmas present was six tickets to the Knoxville show.  Sadly for me, Jack decided to stay behind and attend his track meet rather than make the trip with us.  I was sad, but he did set a personal record on his two-mile race.  We definitely missed him on the trip!

The concert was at Thompson-Boling Arena on the UT campus.  Bill and I were surprised at how urban the UT campus felt--very little open space, and a TON of new construction.  (Higher education as a growth industry...definitely another post for another time.) 

We parked down by the river and tried to eat at Calhoun's on the River for some pre-concert barbecue.  However, faced with a two-hour wait--TWO HOURS?!? WHAT?!?!--we made the short walk uphill to a cute little restaurant called Bistro at the Bijou.  Great meal. 

We headed back to the Arena.  Tons of cowboy hats, a few mullets--we were in Eastern Tennessee, after all.  The stage was set up in the middle of what is normally the basketball court, positioned so the singers could play to any of the sides of the arena.  We were only three rows up from the floor, great seats.

Shortly after we took our seats Martina McBride started her opening act.  She played for almost an hour and fifteen minutes! 

I'm not a huge Martina fan.  I know a few of her songs, but I like my girl country singers a little grittier, like Miranda Lambert or Sunny Sweeney.  But overall she was good. 
Darcy had really hoped that Martina would just quit singing and let George start.
Finally, though, it was time for the Troubadour himself.  What a welcome!
I felt like a ripple went through the audience when he came out, an outpouring of love for this man who has performed so long and so well.  Later, Bill commented on it, so I know I wasn't dreaming it.  I don't think I've ever been part of crowd that just truly appreciated and cared for the performer onstage.  It was really different.

My first impression: what a cowboy gentleman!  That sounds kind of silly, but he had on a perfectly pressed checked shirt, perfectly creased and ironed Wrangler Jeans, a great big belt buckle, and good-looking plain black cowboy boots.  He would have worn exactly the same thing had he been performing at the local honky-tonk.  He is the real deal.

He sang.  And sang.  And sang.  Opened with "Here for a Good Time."  Performed almost every song you might have heard, "Amarillo by Morning," "I Saw God Today," "Rolling," "Mark Yes or No," and so many others. 

Martina came back out for a fantastic rendition of Johnny and June Carter Cash's "Jackson," and he did a couple more Cash songs.  Later he had one of his long-time songwriting partners come out and perform with him, and then they also had an Army vet come out and an organization presented the young man with a new house.  There were several more songs after that.  And then they left the stage.

But of course the crowd wouldn't let him leave like that.  After a few minutes of cheering, they came back out for a FOUR song set, including the iconic "All My Exes Live in Texas"--so much fun to sing in Tennessee!  He ended with Troubadour, bittersweet, and then we finally let George and the band leave the stage. 

The show took just about four hours, and Strait and his band played for two and half hours.  What a blessing to him to leave on such a high note, and what a great evening he gave to the thousands of us in Knoxville.  And he set a high bar for concerts for my kids, since this was their first concert ever.

If I had a chance to see him again on this tour, I'd do it in a heartbeat.   He's in Greenville, SC, in just two weeks...

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