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A stellar soundtrack for the Cowboys' highlight reels

Posted 8:12am on Saturday, Sep. 11, 2010

ARLINGTON -- With plenty of pageantry and glittering guest stars, the North Texas Super Bowl XLV Host Committee brought down the curtain on its unprecedented regional concert series Friday night at Cowboys Stadium.

In a smart piece of symmetrical scheduling, Tim McGraw served as the evening's headliner, echoing the duties performed by his wife, Faith Hill, at Bass Hall in March. Her performance kicked off the series, followed by Sting's sold-out appearance at Dallas' Winspear Opera House in May.

Friday's finale had three aims: Honor the Dallas Cowboys' 50th anniversary, salute its five Super Bowl wins and stoke excitement for Super Bowl XLV.

With help from NFL Films' extensive archives and a host of former players, including Roger Staubach and Larry Brown, the sellout crowd of 36,981 was treated to vintage clips of Tom Landry, Troy Aikman, Barry Switzer and many more in the franchise's moments of glory.

McGraw, clad simply in a white T-shirt, black cowboy hat and jeans and backed by a sharp eight-piece band, delivered a high-energy set heavy on hits such as Last Dollar (Fly Away) and Where the Green Grass Grows. Although he was in fine form vocally, McGraw grappled with the bedeviling acoustics of the stadium, just like nearly every musician before him.

But the country superstar wasn't the only big-ticket attraction.

Earlier in the evening, Fort Worth's own Van Cliburn, perfectly coiffed and perched at a Steinway, performed a stirring, majestic rendition of the national anthem to a reverent, near-silent stadium.

He was followed by the NFL Players Gospel Choir, which delivered a soulful, almost funky take on America the Beautiful.

The 92-piece University of North Texas Symphony Orchestra had arguably the night's riskiest role -- performing live in an unforgiving acoustic environment, in sync with fast-moving highlight reels. What could've been a garbled mess (that sonic disgrace was reserved for the speakers before each "tribute" -- host Brad Sham's voice ricocheted around the room like a pinball) sounded surprisingly crisp and full.

Call it an altogether fitting display of excellence on a night wholly dedicated to it.

Preston Jones is the Star-Telegram pop music critic. 817-390-7713

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