“That brings back some pretty good memories,” said Strait, who was dressed in a pale checked button-down shirt and his usual cowboy boots, black hat and tight Wrangler jeans. “Y’all like those old songs? Me, too.”
He smiled widely and wistfully has he reminisced about his 1980s beginnings, recalling songwriters he worked with and his early plans to incorporate his last name into all his album titles until “luckily I wised up.”
“We’re moving into the ‘90s and old Dusty,” Strait said as he pulled up his stool for the final time to play “The King of Broken Hearts” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends” from his 1992 film “Pure Country.”
The Texas troubadour left the stool behind for his next trip around the stage, which ironically started with his 1985 smash “The Chair,” a favorite that got the whole crowd wailing along and ended in a standing ovation.
“Thank you so much. What a great crowd you are. I’m really, really gonna miss that,” Strait said.
The superstar graciously shared the stage with retired Gen. Leroy Sisco of the Military Warriors Support Foundation, who invited Strait to present an Iraq War veteran and his wife with the ceremonial key to their new house as part of the Homes 4 Wounded Heroes program. Naturally, King George followed up the presentation with the lively “Give It Away.”
Through old favorites like “Amarillo by Morning” to his newest single from his forthcoming album “Give It All We Got Tonight,” from the peppy dance number “Stars on the Water” to the lovely piano ballad “Living for the Night,” Strait seemed determined to savor every moment and emotion. Emotion almost seemed to overwhelm him on the all-too-appropriate recent tracks “Troubadour” and “I’ll Always Remember You.”
“I really wasn’t thinking about retiring or slowing down. I don’t know, maybe it was in the back of mind,” Strait said during the latter, which seemed to bring tears to his eyes. “I just wanted to say how much you guys have meant to me over the years. So I figured the best way to do that was in a song.”
In keeping with tradition, Strait closed his set with his first hit, 1981’s “Unwound.” Although he and his Ace in the Hole Band didn’t leave the stage for long, the crowd welcomed them back for the encore with ear-splitting screams of joy.
“Thank you very much. Yes, we’ll play on,” Strait said, grinning as he strapped his guitar back on and launched into the party-time love song “Same Kind of Crazy,” followed by the hilarious hit “All Exes Live in Texas.”
He gave his Ace in the Hole Band, which started in 1975 and has backed Strait throughout his career, a prime showcase with a raucous extended cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” which got the superstar grinning as broadly as his dancing devotees.
Alas, nothing lasts forever, and many fans groaned when they heard the opening of Strait’s customary closer, “The Cowboy Rides Away.” Folks were singing and swaying, waving their arms and holding up their lighted cell phones.
When the ballad was over, Strait gave a big sigh as he made one last circle around the stage. The emotion was obvious in his face as he waved and pointed to the fans, bowed and patted his heart.
“Good night, everybody. Thank you,” he said, spreading his arms wide and basking in one more collective cheer.
And then he was gone, striding off the stage and proving the lyric true: “The last goodbye’s the hardest one to say.”
Still, it was a great ride, King George.