The King Remains: George Strait Reigns With Poise, Nostalgia at Gillette Stadium
It's remarkable that after 38 years, George Strait is still able to leave a stadium full of people mesmerized by simply a guitar and his country voice. And while his storied catalog of more than 60 No. 1 hits certainly helps, it's Strait's presence that captivates audiences five years after he said he'd be hanging up his touring hat.
Strait proved he's still got it with a headlining show at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on Saturday (Aug. 17) — a bill that also featured Blake Shelton, Cody Johnson and Caitlyn Smith. It was the icon's first appearance at the venue since the Cowboy Rides Away Tour rode through in 2014.
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Though he seemed a bit stiff during opening numbers "Stars on the Water" and "I Can Still Make Cheyenne," it didn't take long for a poised Strait to fall seamlessly back into his comfort zone onstage, as if slipping back into a familiar pair of boots. He powered through a two-hour setlist that would satiate any country fan's palate with classics like "Check Yes or No," "Ocean Front Property" and "The Chair."
His voice as strong and steady as ever in 2019, the cry of the fiddle helped tie up the set like a perfect bow. Pairing new hits with the nostalgic older songs that continue to enamor fans, Strait brought the stadium of concertgoers their feet with the jubilant "Here for a Good Time," "How 'Bout Them Cowgirls" and "Every Little Honky Tonk Bar" just as naturally as he wrapped them in a thoughtful embrace with "I Saw God Today," "She'll Leave You With a Smile" and "God and Country Music." He carried this serenity into storytelling songs like "Arkansas Dave" and "Give it Away." "The Weight of the Badge" served as a poetic selection after Strait and retired Lieutenant General Leroy Sisco awarded a military couple with a new home through the Military Warriors Support Foundation.
Not one for big conversation, Strait kept audience engagement light, only remarking (albeit more than once) on the energy of the crowd and offering brief introductions to some of his biggest hits. He noted that "Amarillo by Morning" is perhaps his favorite song he's recorded — the opening fiddle alone drew a roar from the crowd, so it seemed many agreed.
Strait's set was preluded by an energy-filled performance from Shelton, and it seemed fans were almost as excited to see The Voice judge as the King himself. The "Hell Right" singer treated the crowd to an elevated, high-energy 90-minute showcase that included "All About Tonight," "Neon Light" and "Honey Bee." And while his trademark sharp tongue came in full force — Shelton called out a couple who were celebrating their 31st wedding anniversary as "survivors" and joked with a man in the audience that he knows how it feels to be invisible around his girlfriend before launching into "Guy With a Girl" — his vulnerable side peeked out, too. The superstar remarked multiple times on the awe he felt in opening for Strait, admitting he wished he had the type of songs that inspire stadiums full of people to sing along the way they do for the King. The crowd proved him humble — he proved he's accomplished exactly that in his nearly two-decade career in one of the best moments of the night. Leading into "Home," Shelton prompted the audience to light up the grandiose space. As rain poured down, the stadium full of people sang the words at the top of their lungs.
The energy only escalated as he transitioned into "Hillbilly Bone," a now soaking wet crowd reveling in the moment that featured a face-off jam session between the fiddle player and guitarist before Shelton reprised the rollicking chorus. He electrified with the booming opening notes of "God's Country," and the crowd followed suit when he beckoned them to "pretend" to know the words to the debut performance of his new single with Trace Adkins, "Hell Right." "I will never forget this night," Shelton proclaimed as he walked off stage to "Boys 'Round Here."
Johnson — the independent-turned-mainstream Texas artist behind the hit "On My Way to You," proved to be an opening act worthy of arriving early to see, entertaining fans with his brand of traditional country on "Y'all People," "Long Haired Country Boy" and "Nothin' on You." Smith also commanded the stage, warming up the crowd with her distinct and powerful voice, one that could be heard as far as the parking lot surrounding the massive complex, belting "Starfire," "Contact High" and a cover of the Aretha Franklin classic, "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman."
Strait officially ended the night with an encore of "All My Ex's Live in Texas," a cover of Tom Petty's "You Wreck Me" and a snippet of "The Cowboy Rides Away," then fans with the words he famously used to name his final tour, proving that no matter how far he rides away and for how long, with only a guitar and his voice, he'll stay the King of Country Music.
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