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houston livestock show and rodeo..featuring george strait

It 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.
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 time.
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 Kumbia Kings.
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 fame.
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 it, too.
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 Down.
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 the sweeter.
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 allure.
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 strength.
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 the others).
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.

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