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From the Country Standard Time Archives

Strait is the man

Foxboro Stadium, Foxboro, Mass., May 16, 1999

By Jeffrey B. Remz

FOXBORO, MASS. - Garth Brooks was right when he said at the recent Aacdemy of Country Music Awards of George Strait, "George, you the man."

At least when it comes to country music he is as provedby his Strait fest entravaganza stop in New England.

The long, handsome Texan with Wranglers and a black cowboy hat, of course, is no pretty boy creation of some '90's record label. Strait has been straight with the country crowed - putting out quality albums galore without caving into the lowest common denominator.

Strait clearly showed that in concert, opened with not one of his own hits, but Webb Pierce's "There Stands the Glass" from the '50's.

And he would reach further back doing some Bob Wills tunes as well, showing his love and ability to perform swing tunes.

No matter what the style - the uptempo, ballads or even blues - Strait was in top form. You sensed the vulnerability and illicitness of "We Really Shouldn't Be Doing This."

His crack Ace in the Hole Band, especially fiddler Gene Elders, were an equal match for Strait, breathing life into the songs.

He's not a big talker and certainly no Brooks when it comes to effusiveness, but he clearly seemed to enjoy himself in his easy going style. He had reason to as well

The hottest band in country - The Dixie Chicks - acquitted themselves quite well during their 55 minutes throwing in a few new songs ("Sin Wagon") to mix with their stellar debut and a few covers including paying tribute to Bonnie Raitt.

Lead singer Natalie Maines is a funny ball of fire, a bit bawdy, but definitely a strong frontwoman. Sisters Emily Erwin and Martie Seidel and her fiddle were good foils for Maines, but they also happen to be strong musicians and sang pretty harmonies with Maines.

Perhaps as hot on the male side is Tim McGraw with the best selling album, any genre, in the country. He ma ybe blazing at the cash register, but during his one-long show, McGraw alternated been ballads which are on the wimpy side and uptempo, feel good songs (the closing encore of "I Like It" was the highlight).

McGraw is another laid back performer who doesn't exhibit a whole e lot of emotion up there. And he had the shmaltziest moment of the 9 1/2-hour concert. During "It's Your Love," he was handed a Nokia cellular (the company is a tour sponsor) and pretended to be speaking to wife, Faith Hill. Yeah, right.

In cahoots stylistically with Strait, but receiving the least applause were the openers Asleep at the Wheel. Their brand of Bob Wills styled Texas swing was a winner.

Mark Wills followed with a pleasant though undistinguished 30-minute set. He sings well enough, but his material isn't exactly overpowering.

Hometown artist Jo Dee Messina was back in he native state and very excited to play before an enthusiastic crowd. Best song for Messina, who often strayed far from country (how else to explain a cover of Vickie Sue Robinson's "Turn the Beat Around") was "Even God Must Get the Blues," about violence among teens. Messina easily handled the big stage bounding from side to side.

Kenny Chesney possesses a fine voice, using it to great effect. Vocally, he is a close cousin to Strait. And maybe even performance-wise. He doesn't quite seem comfortable out there singing for the masses.

But he better get used to it, given his success this year with "How Forever Feels," a strong closing number, hitting number one for six weeks.

Strait put together a top-notch line-up with everyone save the Wheel having a big hit within the past two months. But having hits and putting it together in concert are two different things.

Fortunately almost everyone did quite well.