livestock show and rodeo..featuring george strait
came down to one last evening of country music at the Reliant Astrodome
on Sunday before the rodeo chutes closed and the stage lights were turned
down for good. It wouldn't have been a proper sendoff without George Strait
on the stage.
An image of singer George Strait on a monitor dwarfs fans lined up in
the back of the floor of the Reliant Astrodome March 3. On its last day
as a RodeoHouston venue, the Dome played host to a record crowd of 68,266.
It was the first time there was a rodeo concert with no actual rodeo preceding
It was planned as a daylong farewell party, but ticket holders got bonus
speeches by other country music celebrities, a visit from a former U.S.
president and a beamed-in chat with astronauts in outerspace. All were
on hand to experience the so-called eighth wonder of the world one last
The Astrodome, formally the Harris Country Domed Stadium, opened April
9, 1965, when the Houston Astros played an exhibition game against the
New York Yankees. On Feb. 23 of the following year, Milburn Stone and
Ken Curtis (Doc and Festus, respectively, on the television Western series
Gunsmoke) took the stage as the rodeo's first entertainers under the building's
4,596 acrylic skylights.
Over 37 years, much has happened under those same skylights. In addition
to the sports highlights, a host of country and pop legends has passed
through the rodeo arena, from Roy Rogers to Elvis Presley, from Garth
Brooks to Selena and Boyz II Men. Just this year, the RodeoHouston palette
of acts included Bob Dylan, ZZ Top, Willie Nelson, Mary J. Blige and the
For its final performance, however, RodeoHouston and the Reliant Astrodome
went back to their roots with Strait, one of traditional country music's
biggest stars and one of the rodeo's most frequent guests. He has also
become something of a history-maker locally. His last concert in Houston,
on June 11, 2000, was the first ever at the new Astros ballpark formerly
known as Enron Field.
Strait's first appearance at RodeoHouston was not as a marquee attraction.
In 1984, Eddie Rabbitt canceled on the day of his scheduled show, leaving
rodeo organizers scrambling to find a replacement. It came down to Strait,
who lived in Seguin and could get here on time.
"They asked me if I could be at the Houston Astrodome in two hours
to play the rodeo," Strait recalled before the crowd Sunday. "I
said, `This has got to be a joke.' "
He was found bird hunting, but he rustled up his band and was flown to
Houston on a private jet to perform a show that would begin his rise to
Ironically, throat problems raised concern that the guest of honor wouldn't
make it to his own celebration.
Strait was forced to cancel a concert in Memphis, Tenn., on Friday.
For Houston, however, he mounted a brown and white paint horse in unusually
frigid temperatures outside the Dome and rode into the building for a
nearly two-hour run through more than 20 songs.
He greeted the standing-room only crowd with Stars on the Water, from
his 4-month-old album, The Road Less Traveled, that is about as close
to rock swagger as Strait has ever dared. He looked like he kinda liked
He quickly got back to the basic tenets of Bob Wills country on the violin
slow dance I Can Still Make Cheyenne and the honky-tonk 101 of Write This
Strait's irritated vocal chords added a resin to his normally nasal mid-range
that actually benefited his down-tempo, lowlight ballads.
After receiving a Lone Star Legend award from former President Bush, a
statuette in honor of Strait's good work with the rodeo, Strait dedicated
Love Without End, Amen to Bush and his wife, Barbara.
That story of fathers and sons, sung with syrup in his larynx, was all
When his band got its giddyup going, Strait didn't visibly appear to be
affected. The Fireman was a three-alarm string fire with twang. It got
a warmer reception than usual since our nation's firefighters have been
embraced more closely after Sept. 11.
Check Yes Or No, with its mix of fiddle, guitars and pedal steel weaving
in small circles around each other, was a prime example of Strait's country-classic
A little stiff and stoic when he last played Houston, Strait seemed to
feel a little more playful inside the familiar Dome. He snickered a little
talking about the controversy his new-versus-old country duet with Alan
Jackson, Murder on Music Row, caused last year and then unapologetically
sang both parts. The "GS" branded inside a tanned, leather outline
of Texas on his guitar strap swayed with his hips as he flirted with the
front row on I Just Want to Dance With You.
It was a three-way tie for song with the biggest reception. Amarillo By
Morning, a road song that seems as old and American as Yankee Doodle Dandy,
was given its proper respect as one of the few hits Strait had the first
time he played the rodeo. A piano-vamping cover of Folsom Prison Blues
was an unexpected surprise, and If You Can Do Anything Else, with its
opening line about living in Houston, tested the ol' Dome's structural
That combo got some of the crowd two-stepping on the temporary plastic
floor where bulls had bucked a day earlier. The steps moved from a slow
dance for the new urban cowboy single Living and Living Well to Western
swing for a cover of Wills' Take Me Back To Tulsa. Members of Strait's
large ensemble Ace in the Hole band each took turns improvising picking
up speed as dueling fiddle players battled through the final chorus.
Nineteen years, 15 RodeoHouston performances and more than 50 top 10 singles
later, Strait is one of three rodeo performers to have played to more
than a million Houston rodeo fans. (Reba McEntire and Charley Pride are
At his final Dome appearance, he made it clear that he would be adding
to that total.
"If you think this party's big, wait until the one next year,"
Strait said of a planned 2003 appearance in the new Reliant Stadium.
But as a record crowd filed down the gray halls and concrete columns of
RodeoHouston's home the last 37 years for the last time, they cheered
-- not only for Strait, but for the building itself.
top of page
provided by the houston chronicle
| bio | discography
| pictures | links