You know you’re in for something special when the reigning Entertainer of the Year is opening the concert you’ve just sat down for. George Strait in Nashville was special.
With remarkable — almost fascinating — professionalism and a working man’s approach to music-making, Strait powered through the heat and 33 song titles in just over two hours. When he finished, his long sleeve, plaid, button-up was soaked in sweat but he looked as if he could have gone another hour. If you worried that at age 71 he may melt in these conditions you forgot he was from Texas.
A dense breeze did little to tame the thermometer (about 88 degrees to start) as Strait quickly deviated from previous sets to open with “Write This Down.” The night’s first tribute came next. It was subtle, but as he closed “I Got a Car” he tapped his heart and pointed up to remember songwriter Keith Gattis, who died after a tractor accident in April. He’s not really one to bring big emotions to the stage, as seen later when Chris Stapleton joined for three songs. The men gave each other a hardy handshake instead of the kind of bro-hug popular by younger contemporaries.
The night was unique in that it was filled with covers and tributes. Early stops on this small stadium tour have repeated a very similar set list but during his first night in Nashville, the legend included songs like “Blue Clear Sky,” which SetList.fm says he hasn’t played since 2019. The fan-generated set list archive is hardly definitive, but this No. 1 from 1996 is rare.
Just before that, he reached back for “That’s My Kind of Woman,” a deep cut from Just Comes Natural. Setlist.Fm will tell you he’d never played that song before. Who knows what’s on tap for Night No. 2 on Saturday (July 29)?
Calling Strait a stand-and-sing act diminishes the simple power of melodic songs like “Give It Away,” “Here for the Good Time,” “Amarillo By Morning” and so many more. The music connects, so he doesn’t have to work hard to force it. That was particularly evident during a pair of Bob Wills covers late in the show. Fans weren’t as familiar with “Take Me Back To Tulsa” and “Milk Cow Blues.” two songs that acted more as a band feature or bridge to a trio of closing songs than highlights.
Other legends Strait hat-tipped included Johnny Cash (“Folsom Prison Blues” during the encore), Waylon Jennings (Waymore’s Blues”) and Merle Haggard. In fact he played three different songs from the Hag’s catalog: “Misery and Gin,” “Pancho and Lefty” and “The Fightin’ Side of Me.” Add it up and over 20 percent of his show was cover songs.
— Billy Dukes (@billydukes) July 29, 2023
Little Big Town and Stapleton — the 2023 ACM Entertainer of the Year — played before Strait but the crowd was there for the King, who displayed the kind of steady hand and confidence he describes in songs like “Fireman,” “I Got a Car” and “The Weight of the Badge.” It was a no frills show because no frills were needed.
George Strait Nashville Set List, Nissan Stadium — July 28, 2023:
1. “Write This Down”
2. “I Got a Car”
4. “How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls”
6. “Here for a Good Time”
7. “I Can Still Make Cheyenne”
8. “Check Yes or No”
9. “That’s My Kind of Woman”
10. “Blue Clear Sky”
11. “Waymore Blues” (Waylon Jennings Cover)
12. “The Weight of the Badge”
13. “Ocean Front Property”
14. “She’ll Leave You With a Smile”
15. “When the Credits Roll”
16. “Misery and Gin” (Merle Haggard Cover)
17. “Pancho and Lefty” (Feat. Chris Stapleton) (Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson Cover)
18. “You Don’t Know What You’re Missing” (Feat. Chris Stapleton)
19. “Love’s Gonna Make It Alright” (Feat. Chris Stapleton)
20. “I Saw God Today”
21. “The Fightin’ Side of Me” (Merle Haggard Cover)
22. “The Chair”
23. “Give It Away”
24. “Take Me Back To Tulsa” (Bob Wills Cover)
25. “Milk Cow Blues” (Bob Wills Cover)
26. “Amarillo By Morning”