he last time King George was on tour, he co headlined with country's reigning queen; Reba McEntire. This time around, he shared the bill with heir apparent Martina McBride.
Their styles are vastly different. Strait is the embodiment of old school classic country and a favorite of any purist. McBride is the more contemporary artist with the blistering soprano best known for her girl power showmanship and women's empowerment. It was creased Wranglers and a Stetson paired with the dazzlingly beautiful fashionista.
Who won the battle? Let's call it a draw. It was a win for both classic and contemporary country.
McBride began predictably with One Night, the opening track on "Eleven." She penned it for the sole purpose of opening her shows. The album is McBride's serious foray into songwriting (she co-wrote 6 of the 11 tracks).
She then used her first number one, Wild Angels to take a fun romp to cover all angles of the center stage setup. McBride's youthful exuberance and boundless energy belie her 45 years. Her classic beauty combined with Joan Jett sass make for a cross between demure songstress and sexy rocker.
This was most evident on Watcha Gonna Do, a last minute addition to the album and a stage number chock full of attitude. She showcased the current singles; the poignant I'm Gonna Love You Trough It and universally relatable Teenage Daughters. in the middle of the 14-song set.
The band benefitted from the recent addition of solo artist Carolyn Dawn Johnson, who was brought in to complement acoustic guitarist Marty Schiff, Martina's brother. Lead guitarist Greg Foresman highlighted the set with several scorching solos. McBride flexed her own instrumental prowess on harmonica during Love's the Only House.
She did not perform anything from her "Timeless" release, a fine classic country tribute. Just as surprising, only Wrong Baby Wrong made the set list from her 2009 number one album, "Shine."
Regardless, the best numbers in a McBride set are those where she goes supersonic, especially on perennial showstoppers Independence Day and A Broken Wing. The latter is a performance so powerful, it won't just give you goosebumps, it will change your blood chemistry. She challenges the structural integrity of every venue with dangerous decibel levels. As luck would have it, she performed them back to back to close the show and leave the audience breathless.
The king was the personification of an old school cowboy. He came out looking much as he did in 1992's "Pure Country." His understated appearance mirrors his performing style, a steady as she goes set featuring country's best touring band, Ace in the Hole.
Simple arrangement and understated delivery are the defining elements of just about every Strait record and the title track from the new album, "Here for A Good Time" is no exception. He then slid into I Gotta Get to You and the moving I Saw God Today.
Strait's baritone is as smooth and authoritative as ever. He immediately set the tone for his versatility, and the band showcased its deep talent with powerful jams throughout. The group showcases Mike Kennedy's athletic drumming and Benny McArthur and Rick McRae's superb guitar and fiddle work.
One of the highlights was A Showman's Life, a duet with Faith Hill on the album. The crowd favorite, Check Yes or No was a collective sing along from the first note.
Nashville has previously attempted to cross-market the genre by promoting the phrase, "This Ain't Your Daddy's Country." But Strait is a living legend that embodies that era of greatness along with the likes of fellow pioneers Waylon, Hank and Willie. No one keeps country music more pure and aging well better than Strait. McBride has simply been one of the best voices in all of music over the past 20 years. At one point, she remarked, "I am the luckiest girl in the world. I'm touring with George Freaking Strait."
Country music is lucky to have them both. The fans are the biggest winners. The concert proved that country music's ambassador positions are filled.