It’s no exaggeration to say many of Nashville’s biggest names will be on hand Saturday to help George Strait bring this chapter of his illustrious career to a close.
Short of uprooting AT&T Stadium and plopping it down in the middle of Music City, it’s hard to see how Strait could have any more star wattage behind him.
From the opening act through to the musicians who will each perform three-song sets during the course of the evening, Strait has assembled a roster of friends that manages to balance country music’s past, present and future (might’ve been nice to extend an invite to Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark or Sarah Jarosz, but you can’t have everything).
So, before this parade of country music superstars makes its way to Arlington, here’s a quick glance at what the glittering guest list is up to these days.
Asleep at the Wheel : Given Strait’s deep affection for Western swing, it’s no surprise to see this Austin-based institution tapped as the opening act, bringing him full circle to the early days on the rodeo circuit with his Ace in the Hole Band. Led by the bottomless baritone of Ray Benson (who just released a solo LP, A Little Piece, earlier this year), Asleep at the Wheel continues to tour regularly (they’ll be back June 29 to play Concerts in the Garden at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden) and next year, will mark 45 years of the band’s existence.
Jason Aldean : Aldean is fast becoming a familiar face to North Texas concertgoers. He was here in March as part of the NCAA’s free concert series in downtown Dallas, and he’ll return in October to Gexa Energy Pavilion for the final date on his “Burn It Down” tour. Aldean recently told Billboard he’s working on a follow-up to 2012’s Night Train, and hopes to have a single out later this month, with the album to follow in the fall.
Kenny Chesney : A good measure of Strait’s power? Kenny Chesney, who is otherwise taking the summer off from touring, will make his only live appearance of the year Saturday at AT&T Stadium. Although he isn’t criss-crossing the country, as he’s done almost every summer for the last decade, Chesney isn’t sitting idly by. The Boot reported in April that Chesney’s working on a new album, the follow-up to last year’s Life on a Rock.
Eric Church : Fresh off his fourth album, The Outsiders (released in February), North Carolina native Church is considered part of the new, back-to-basics vanguard in Nashville. His often rock-tinged tunes would probably make Hank Williams spin in his grave, but Church is racking up fans and critical accolades alike for his no-nonsense approach.
Sheryl Crow : With her metamorphosis from rock star to country crooner complete (last year’s Feels Like Home was touted as the Grammy winner’s “country debut”), the cynic might suggest Crow is shoring up her Music City bona fides with this gig. Nevertheless, the gap between country and pop/rock isn’t so wide these days, making the leap less shocking than it might have been a decade ago.
Vince Gill : One of Nashville’s truly legendary talents, this Grammy-winning Oklahoma guitar-slinger feels like something of a bridge between Strait’s early career and now. Each man has a deep reverence for the good ol’ days, and both have enjoyed longevity in a business that, at least lately, doesn’t always allow for it. Gill, an incendiary live performer, continues to tour in support of last year’s terrific Bakersfield.
Faith Hill : Not counting 2008’s Christmas-themed Joy to the World, it’s been almost a decade since Hill released a studio album. (She started work on a LP in 2011, but nothing has materialized yet.) In the interim, she’s kept busy touring, alone and with her husband, Tim McGraw (who has already opened for Strait on the “Cowboy Rides Away” tour), as well as serving as the “voice” of Sunday Night Football’s theme song from 2007-12.
Alan Jackson : Like many country music veterans, Jackson is using the latter part of his career to explore his influences and pursue what interests him, rather than what the market demands. The results are hard to argue with: 2013’s The Bluegrass Album was superb, one of the year’s best, and his performance of He Stopped Loving Her Today, at George Jones’s funeral last year, was pitch perfect.
Miranda Lambert : The pride of Lindale is fresh off the release of her latest studio album, Platinum (see review, page 25), and is gearing up for a 30-date U.S. tour, which kicks off in July, to support the record. (Maybe her hubby, Blake Shelton, who performed with Strait on the bill that helped open then-Cowboys Stadium five years ago will make a surprise cameo?)
Martina McBride : This award-winning vocalist is taking a quick break from her national tour supporting her just-released Everlasting (produced by Don Was) to help say farewell to Strait, for whom she’s also opened a few dates on previous legs of the “Cowboy Rides Away” tour.
— Preston Jones