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Strait throws a housewarming party in Big D

Cowboys Stadium, Dallas, June 6, 2009

Reviewed by Michael Sudhalter

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For the grand opening of the $1-billion stadium, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wanted the best modern day cowboy singer to kick it off in style. And that's exactly what native Texan George Strait did during a 105-minute set in front of a capacity crowd.

During this historic concert, he went from one hit to another from a nearly three-decade career , but unlike a typical Strait performance, he showed a little more of his personal touch this time. Strait said he was humbled to play the concert and that it ranked up there with his career highlights.

He showed his funny bone when he started chanting 'Jerry, Open The Roof' repeatedly, so fans could see the retractable roof open for the first time; Strait also sang Happy Birthday to former Cowboy Bill Bates.

Opening the show were two Oklahomans - Reba McEntire and Blake Shelton - and a fellow Texan, Lee Ann Womack - who filled in at the last minute because Julianne Hough had strep throat. McEntire said it was the first time that she shared the bill with Strait since the 2 had opened a show for Conway Twitty during the 1980's.

Despite the bells, whistles and plush luxury suites, this night was just about traditional country music - Strait and his magnificent 11-piece Ace In The Hole Band. He started off playing a string of hits from this decade like Write This Down, Wrapped and Run, but also found a way to squeeze in oldies like Ocean Front Property and The Fireman. Give It Away - a recent Strait hit co-written by Jamey Johnson - was another highlight of the show, due to the emotional subject matter of a divorce.

It's no surprise that Strait performed If It Wasn't For Texas - with a backdrop of Lone Star State images. Especially because the song makes mention of the Cowboys.

There were lots of uptempo songs like Honk If You Honky-Tonk and Check Yes Or No, but Strait's voice and the fiddle intro and solo ending really shined on a pair of sad rodeo cowboy songs like I Can Still Make Cheyenne and Amarillo By Morning.

Strait played his first and latest hits, Unwound and Living For The Night towards the end of a show before setting up a three-song encore that included High-Toned Woman, a cover of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues and appropriately enough, The Cowboy Rides Away. The cover of Folsom Prison Blues - which Strait has performed live for the past few years - was the only serious misstep of the evening. His voice isn't deep enough for the song, and he's better suited to a cover of Merle Haggard's The Seashores of Old Mexico. He performed that song just right at the concert; it's one he recorded a few years ago after playing it live for many years prior to that.

McEntire's set was impressive, thanks to the mix of new and old material she played from beginning to end. Her band also did a good job, and it included the versatile Jimmy Mattingly, who was Garth Brooks' fiddle player a decade ago. She told the story of how she was discovered and that it was very difficult for female singers to break through during the 1970's.

McEntire's new material is very different, and it puts the veteran superstar in a category right alongside some of the most pop-oriented in the genre - like her new single, Strange. And I Want A Cowboy - a song that was recorded earlier this decade by fellow Oklahoman, Katrina Elam. It's hard to imagine McEntire performing that song even a few short years ago. She has definitely been influenced by the new and up-and-coming artists in the genre, and that was evident in her performance of Because Of You, the duet she recorded with former American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson.

She talked about her early days as a performer, McEntire took fans on a trip down memory lane with a medley of songs that included snippets from Little Rock, Rumor Has It, Walk On and I Can't Even Get The Blues.

For the encore, McEntire changed outfits from a blue to red dress and then performed Fancy before yielding the stage to Strait.

Shelton added a heavy dose of humor to his brief performance, emerging on to the stage holding a beer can and saying, "My name is Blake Shelton, and this is not my first beer of the day." Like many in the audience, Shelton was impressed with the Cowboys' new digs, saying, "Mr. Jones spared no expense in building this place, but then added that the parking situation was terrible - making a smooth transition into Some Beach.

The humor continued when he shared an anecdote about being nervous for the show and how a chat with Strait calmed him down . He then surprisingly played the commercial jingle to FreeCreditReport.com. It wasn't all laughs as Shelton dedicated Goodbye Time, a song he recorded, to its original performer, the late Twitty.

Womack said she was lying on a beach when she got the call asking her to fill in for Hough. She gladly obliged and in doing so, went down in history as the first artist to perform in the new stadium. The first song: Solitary Thinking. The first uptempo song was a stellar cover of Bob Wills' classic, San Antonio Rose.

Another special moment during the set was Womack's performance of I Hope You Dance - recorded about a decade ago - was dedicated to her baby daughter. Womack's daughter stood on the stage and watched her mom perform that timeless song. While most non-country listeners know Womack for that song, the meat and potatoes of her recording career are honky-tonk and cheating songs and there are few better than Last Call and I May Hate Myself In The Morning.