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George Strait, past and present

Mike Sudhalter  |  January 17, 2011

Seeing a George Strait Concert is always an amazing experience.

Sure, I know what you're going to say: 'he just stands there, sings and plays guitar'.

Point taken. But he does it so well that you're glad that there aren't any bells or whistles involved.

Every time I see him live, it reminds me that I'm in the presence of greatness. Strait's accomplishments should stand toe-to-toe someday with those of Elvis and Michael Jackson because he does what he does as well as they did what they did.

What other musical artist - country or otherwise - has been consistently on the charts every year the way Strait has?

I'd seen Mr. Strait seven times - Worcester, Mass. (first country concert I ever attended in September 1996), Kansas City, Mo. (Arrowhead Stadium with Alan Jackson and a newcomer named Brad Paisley), twice in Sacramento, Calif., the grand opening of Cowboys Stadium in Arlington (June 2009) and at Reliant Stadium in Houston (August 2009).

But last Friday was the first time I'd seen King George play in the Central Texas region where he developed into a country crooner.

It was quite the experience getting to Austin on a rainy night that got mistier the further west that my girlfriend, Mindy, and I traveled. We left La Porte, Texas at 5:15 p.m. and several missed exit ramps, traffic jams and a convenient store in La Grange, Texas that randomly sold a bunch of University of Delaware hats (random, huh?), we entered the Erwin Center for the first gig of his 2011 Tour just as the Ace in The Hole Band was preparing to start "Deep In The Heart of Texas" - the first song of every Strait set.

He played a jam-packed Erwin Center and didn't forget to remind the crowd that he got started in the Austin-San Marcos-San Antonio area.

The photos taken on his most recent album, "Twang", were in front of Gruene Hall in Gruene, Texas - a legendary place where I've been inside but have to see a show (that's next on the list).

When I first purchased "Strait Out of The Box" in 1996, I read about a place where Strait got his start - the Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos - where Texas State University (formerly, Southwest Texas State) is located.

At age 17 and living in Massachusetts at the time, Cheatham Street may as well have been on the moon.

But I'd always wanted to go there and check out a show.

Staying in New Braunfels, Texas meant excellent dining opportunities at Oma's Haus Restaurant and some good time with friends.

It also gave us the opportunity to check out Cheatham Street, which featured Texas Country band, Whiskey Myers.

There was a little case dedicated to Strait in the back of the legendary bar, started by songwriter Kent Finlay and journalist Jim Cunningham (Mindy's Great Uncle) back in 1974.

It had some of the fliers from the days when the Ace In The Hole Band got their start at Cheatham Street; it also featured an autographed copy of Strait's major label debut, "Strait Country," that featured a handwritten note to Finlay and his wife, Diana, thanking them for giving him a place to start his music career.

I got the opportunity to visit with Finlay at the show, and it was amazing to chat with someone who's had such a major impact on Texas Music. Randy Rogers Band got their start at Cheatham Street, and Finlay's song, "They Call It The Hill Country" was recorded by RRB.

The stage looks just the same as when Strait started playing there 36 years ago.

Places like Cheatham Street make it easy for country music acts in Texas to build a fan base, and sometimes, expand nationally. It seems as though artists from other states always have the goal of moving to Nashville and trying to make it big.

Texas is a unique place, especially the Hill Country region.

With so many hit songs, Strait did a remarkable job of playing a good mix of old and new ones on Friday night.

He rarely chats during a show, with the only exception being the Cowboys Stadium show when he chanted "Jerry, Jerry!" in a pre-orchestrated effort to get the Cowboys owner to open the roof; I have a very strong feeling that this little cheesy bit was not Strait's idea!

But it was mostly about the music that night, and it was all about the music on Friday.

Songs like "Ocean Front Property" are timelessly humorous, while "I Can Still Make Cheyenne" is truly one of Strait's gems.

The first time I saw Strait, he covered Merle Haggard's "The Seashores of Old Mexico", but he hadn't recorded it yet - hence no video. This time, there was an overhead video, and the song was every bit as good.

"The Chair" and "Amarillo By Morning" are two of my favorite classic Strait songs, and I look forward to hearing them again when I see Strait Show No. 8.

I learned an important lesson on Friday night. Don't leave to get your girlfriend some bottled water and return empty-handed, but with a picture of you and her favorite college football team's coach.

Thanks for the photo-op, Coach Brown

Gig 'Em.

:: Posted at 6:28 PM by Mike Sudhalter ::
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