Familiar, but still so much fun@

Associated Press Modified: January 29, 2011 at 11:24 pm •  Published: January 29, 2011



c.2010 St. Petersburg Times@

TAMPA ? When it comes to Nashville stars, safe and easy trumps wild 'n' sleazy. Yes, country songs can get ornery, and country fans can get Gasparilla-y. But you don't have to party like a rock star to stay hot on Music Row. You just have to be honest, kind and maybe kick a tire now and then.

How else to explain the awesome endurance of King George Strait and Queen Reba McEntire, who together have amassed more than 90 No. 1 hits? They give great twang and flash killer smiles, but they're as edgy and exciting as a Big Mac and fries. Still, who doesn't love Big Macs and fries?

That's the true beauty of country. And at the St. Pete Times Forum on Saturday, 15,365 fans ? many of whom were still beaded from the pirate invasion earlier in the day ? celebrated the steady pursuit of excellence.

My mama calls Reba a "neat lady," and she's right about that. The 55-year-old multimedia star (loved you in Tremors!) has an Oprah-like ability to rake in millions and still be relatable to the rest of us. Although her songs can get sad ? For My Broken Heart was devastatingly good during a tight 90-minute set ? she never plays the victim. Ol' Red fights back.

When opening act Lee Ann Womack joined the co-headliner for classic mistress lament Does He Love You, the duet pushed Reba and her nine-piece band to an explosive take-that finish. Although she's written more than a few cuts, Reba is also a tremendous interpreter of the pop canon. When Beyonce sings If I Were a Boy, it's chilly, almost plotting; the country gal turned the hit into a clever slow-build accusation with a gut-check finale.

The Oklahoma native always made sure to entertain, including bringing on nutty blond Melissa Peterman, co-star of her Reba sitcom, for some genuinely funny schtick. For the encore, a red-dress-struttin' Reba rode a taxi to the stage for an over-the-top take on Bobbie Gentry's Fancy.

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