George Strait's touring comes to an end

* George Strait wound down his touring career Saturday night at AT@T Stadium in front 104,793  fans. Now what does this have to do with baseball? Well, when many of these posts are made in the wee hours, George Strait is playing in the background. .... 2014 Canadians drafted … Canadians in the Minors … Canadians in College … MLB open Bureau camp dates

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And then the young Trubadour sang ...

“I knew the stakes were high right from the start. When she dealt the cards, I bet my heart. Now I just found a game that I can’t play, And this is where the cowboy rides away.”

“And my heart is sinking like the setting sun, Setting on the things I wish I’d done. It’s time to say goodbye to yesterday. This is where the cowboy rides away.”

“We’ve been in and out of love and in-between. And now we play the final showdown scene. As the credits roll a sad song starts to play, And this is where the cowboy rides away.”

“Oh the last goodbye’s the hardest one to say. This is where the cowboy rides away.”


By Bob Elliott

ARLINGTON, Tex. _ He always closes his concerts singing Sonny Throckmorton lyrics, although he never gets half-way through the song.

Instead, he would un-hook his guitar, set it down, wave to fans and smile to one side of the stage, then the other while the Ace in the Hole band played the rest of the song and he walked off stage to cheers.

The song always meant the end of the concert.

Still, we always knew we’d see him again.

George Strait sang it all the way to the end on Saturday night on stage and on the largest scoreboard I’ve ever seen at AT@T Stadium before nearly 104,793 people where the Dallas Cowboys play on Sundays. Attendance shattered the previous record set by The Rolling Stones at The Louisiana Superdome in 1981.


Duet after duet were sung as the biggest names in country music popped out of the shadows and made their way on stage for two songs.

Some could have sold out the place out on their own yet they flew into Dallas, did their two songs, re-appeared for the encore and we can guess told stories into the night.

It was as if the 62-year-old former rodeo cowboy from Poteet, Tex. (south of San Antonio) was in his back yard, which it sort of was.

He was on the card that opened the Houston AstroDome, headlined the concert to close the AstroDome and opened the Cowboys new stadium.

He is Texas.

It was a tough ticket to acquire. I must have asked nine people and given my credit card number to five who said “let me try.” And when they arrived in the mail in an envelope with a Dallas Cowboys logo I headed to the phone to book a flight for Saturday’s concert.

And Sunday I went across the parking lot for the Cleveland Indians-Texas Rangers game. Upstairs in the press box I ran into former Texas Rangers general manager Tom Grieve who recalled roughly 30 years ago sitting in his suite as GM with Strait who had been booked for a post-game concert.

“There were about 35,000 fans there and I don’t think they came to see the team play,” said Grieve, who homered in the first opening day game story I ever wrote.

“How about my son? He gets tickets for the concert from a buddy of his, his wife says she doesn’t want to go -- so he turns them down. What about old dad ... I would have loved to have gone ... so what are you doing here anyway?”

Ah, er, you don’t want to know Thomas.


* * * On the Dallas-Toronto flight I began pecking away at this.

Then I realized I was sitting along side Nicole Axford, wife of Cleveland Indians reliever John Axford who had taken her eldest son to Arlington, where the Indians were visiting, to celebrate his third birthday with dad.

Eventually I told her why I’d been in Arlington and asked “so how dopey would it be for a ball writer to write about an entertainer?”

“You’d be wrong not to ... I’m a fomrer line dance instructor,” said Nicole.


* * * It would have been better had it been on the Sunday as Saturday was Day 3 of the major league draft. I figured I’d get there late as is often the case because he had so many guests he probably wouldn’t go on until 9 or 10.

A friend phoned and asked if I was ready to depart. Not yet the draft is in the final round.

“Well, Asleep at the Wheel is opening, playing for an hour and then George Strait is next ... the other people are singing duets.” I think I said goodbye before hanging up.

We remember seeing Susan Saint James on David Letterman one night and he asked her what she wanted to do on her summer vacation and her answer was to follow The Rolling Stones on tour.

Following George Strait on tour from city to city became a goal before we take the escalator up to join Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Eddie Arnold, Vern Gosdin and George Jones.

We never made the tour, but we saw a few George Strait dates ... Saturday night was No. 15.

He stepped onto the revolving stage at mid field wearing a George Strait brand blue-checked Western shirt, jeans and his trademark black hat, opening with “Check Yes or No,” sparking a Saturday night sing a longs, the first of the 41 songs played ... but first before we get to the final concert of his tour, the first 15 ...

1. Hillbilly road house, north of Atlanta, either 1983 or 1984.

After finishing work the cab arrived from downtown Atlanta to a full parking lot. The huge saloon was set back about a mile from the road. I asked the driver to take me to the front door. After passing about 10 late arrivals many wearing cowboy lids and kicker, he asked if I didn’t mind walking. “Not at all, what’s the problem?” The cabbie said “sir, I don’t like the looks of driving any deeper into this -- too many red necks.” I paid him and told him fine but “there are good red necks and bad necks like anything else.”

Concert rating: 10.


2. Massey Hall, Toronto. Upper deck, stage left. Either 1987 or 1988.

The guy introducing Strait said “we had some problems coming through customs, the agent got on our bus and asked if we had any guns? George stepped up and said ‘why do you want to buy some?” And the guy opened his Texas duster with pistols on the inside.

Concert rating: 10.


3. Sun Dome, Tampa, South Florida University, 1995. Bought tickets from scalper, 12th row.

It was theatre in the round. Four sides. Two songs here, then move to the left and two more songs, then to the left and two more, then move to the left and two more. Repeat.

Of course he sang my faves in front of me.

Concert rating: 10.


4. Tampa Stadium, Tampa, 1998, fifth row, with Brian Bruch.

This concert which began at noon. We arrived after the Jays played at Al Lang Field on a Saturday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays. We saw kids passed out who never saw the main act. What made the concert so enjoyable was that the guard stood in the middle of the aisle in the sixth row preventing anyone from moving forward to the pictures.

We wound up in the same row as Jays trainer Tommy Craig, Jose Canseco and Shawn Green. We missed Faith Hill but she came out to sing with Tug McGraw and the place went nuts. During the intermission fans began chanting at Canseco, so the whole row went back stage. I asked Green what he was doing there ... “you don’t like country music.” And he said “I wanted to hear Faith Hill.” After the concert we attempted to leave via by the same exit where we left. The guard said no ... Brian had tossed his back-stage pass. But no big deal, so we had to go out another exit.


Concert rating: 10.

It wasn’t until the next day that the exit plan from the stadium floor would become one of my two biggest regrets ever in baseball ...

No. 1, summer of 1993 ...

John Olerud was making a run at .400. I mentioned to someone it would be a good idea to speak to Ted Williams. That night around 11 o’clock the phone rang and it was Williams’ good friend Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr calling from Utah: “So I understand you’d like to talk to Ted ... he’s on the Mirimachi River in New Brunswick fishing ... how about two weeks from today.”


The plane ticket was bought, the bosses were excited and so was I ... Ted Williams was the greatest hitter ever ... my father said so and he was never wrong.

Then the day before I answered the phone to hear Doerr say “sorry we’re going to have to cancel, one of the people in Ted’s group had a stroke last night and had to be air lifted to Boston.”

And No. 2 was the next day in Dunedin ...

Green asked where we’d been after. I said what do you mean? He explained Roger Clemens had been back stage watching from the wings and then they all went on the bus, Craig and Green with Strait with Clemens saying “OK George play this one ... OK play this one.” Wow, wouldn’t that have been a concert.

Concert rating: 10, according to Green.


5. Foxboro Stadium, Foxboro, Mass. 1999, 10th row, with Brian “Big Money” Kusiewicz.

Somehow, we wound up with two extra tickets and couldn’t get rid of them. Once again a day long festival, a day at Straitland and again many, many imbibed.

Concert rating: 10.


6. Rich Stadium, Buffalo, N.Y. 2000, eighth row, with Brian “Big Money” Kusiewicz.

This was another great concert, but there was more excitement afterwards Kenny Chesney rode a policeman’s horse after the concert. Tim McGraw intervened as deputies pulled Chesney off a police horse. McGraw admitted he pushed a deputy but argued he was preventing Chesney from falling onto the concrete. The case went to trial 11 months later.

Concert rating: 10.


7. Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, 2001, 12th row with Mike Kusiewicz, Travis Hubbel and some other Jays minor leaguer, who appreciated fine music.

Arrived in time to see two acts before Strait after the Jays game. Saw Hubbel on the field last year behind the velvet rope at the Rogers Centre. He’s Edmonton tough but he has moved to the Niagara region.

Concert rating: 10.


8. Breslin Center, Lansing, Mich., 2003, Michigan State University campus fourth row, upper level.

Another show in the round with good friends from Cambridge.

Concert rating: 10.


9. Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, Ont. 2006, 10 rows up, centre ice.

Miranda Lambert and Tracy Lawrence opened, with my son and good friends from Cambridge.

Concert rating: 10.


10. Molson Amphitheatre, Toronto, 2006, 15 rows up with a dear fried.

Same show a day later.

Concert rating: 10.


11. Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, either 2005 or 2006. 10th row with a writer friend.

Arrived 20 minutes before Tim McGraw, don’t recall the opening acts before McGraw. When McGraw finished the two 20-something women beside went to leave. I asked “you’re not staying for the best part? Give this guy a chance ... stay three songs, this guy doesn’t run and jump across the stage like some guys, he simply sings.” After two songs one woman leaned over and said “thanks, we’re staying.”

Concert rating: 10.


12. Wells Fargo Centre, Philadelphia, October, 2010, five rows back on the floor, with a Philadelphia Phillies scout.

After finishing our work Friday on the work out day we hiked across the parking lot to the Wells-Fargo Center, home of the Flyers and ‘76ers, to see Lee Ann Womack, Reba Mcentire.

Kelly Clarkson joined in for three songs with Reba as a surprise guest. Sat beside a guy who drove all the way from Vermont -- for the concert ... not the post season.

(Have not seen Reba M perform since 1984 at West Palm Beach when she was a former Oklahoma barrel racer. Head-lining the festival was the band Exile. J.P. Pennington was a dear friend of Montreal Expos second baseman Doug Flynn. Both were from Lexington, Ky. We met them at a sound check (they sounded fine, we did not have to fix any amps) before a show in Ottawa and Donald Campbell and I went to both shows. Anyway this day a torrential rain hit the concert. Gord Hamilton and I were leaving when we ran into Exile’s stage manager Clarence, who invited us onto the bus and out of the rain, We walked onto the bus and there were the members of Exile showing their kid’s pictures friends.)

Concert rating: 10.



13. First Niagara Center, Buffalo, February, 2012 with Jo-Ann Polak, Don Campbell and Scott Van De Valk.

Van De Valk had seen Garth Brooks in Vegas and thought he was better. Leaving the hustle, bustle and the banners of historic downtown Georgetown he told someone “this guy is so old only the seniors watch him.”

Three songs in he turned and said “this man might be the coolest dude in the world. I know all these songs.”

Concert rating: 10.


14. Auburn Hills, Mich. Feb. 14, with my son Bob, new bride Sarah and Van de Valk.

They flew in from Moncton, N.B. and we drove to the home of the Detroit Pistons.

Now I’m not a religious person but I entered the concert with a heavy heart as Jim Fregosi died that day in Miami. When I heard him sing "I Saw God today” it was as if I’d heard the words for the first time. I was wondering if Fregosi saw God today. The lyrics then turn to the birth of a baby and the chorus “I saw God today.” And I thought of being a grand parent some time.

Their first dance the previous December when they wed was "I Cross My Heart" ... sung by George in the movie Pure Coutnry.

A week ago Sarah, now pregnant, and my son, made the 11-hour drive from Moncton to Foxborough ... so they saw him twice in four months. I always credit my wife for raising our two children ... but methinks I “taught him good,” as a Texican might say, when it comes to appreciating fine classical music.

Concert rating: 10.


15. AT@T Stadium, Arlington, Tx.

The thing about George Strait, entertainer, is that’s he’s not into saying “this is the greatest (fill in the blank) city I’ve ever been,” or “you fans here in (fill in the blank here) are the best crowd ever,” or “we’re going to stay here all night and party.” It’s always good for a rousing cheer from excited fans, but it’s about as sincere as a “when did you get in, where are you staying” each spring training.

George Strait just stands there and sings. Yet when his guests popped up he had to thank them for coming and basically stopped them short if they went on talking too long about him. He didn’t stop one tall Georgia drink of water, Allan Jackson who emerged with two red solo cups or were they were brown solo cups.


“In the early 80s when I was a young man in Georgia, I was a big fan of `Unwound,’” Jackson said of the 1981 hit that propelled Strait to stardom, raising his cup. “You’re the reason I came to Nashville, Tennessee. God bless you.”

Jackson and Strait sang “Amarillo by Morning” and ”Murder on Music Row” while the other guests sang duets with Strait ... Vince Gill _ “Love Bug” and “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?” Kenny Chesney _ “Ocean Front Property” and “The Fireman.” Faith Hill _ “A Showman’s Life” and “Let’s Fall to Pieces Together.”Eric Church _ “Cowboys Like Us” and “Easy Come, Easy Go” Miranda Lambert _ “How Bout Them Cowgirls” and “Run.” Jason Aldean, Colby Rasmus’ fave _ “Fool Hearted Memory” and “Nobody in His Right Mind Would Have Left Her.” Martina McBride _ “Jackson” and “Golden Ring.” Sheryl Crow _ “Here For a Good Time” and “When Did You Stop Loving Me?” His son Bubba _ “Arkansas Dave.”

Friend Phil Rogers has connections in the "music bidness." In January of 2012 he and his wife Annie, along with my son Bob were at a banquet in New York. The night before he found out Robert Earl Keen was playing. Unable to get tickets, my son and I went to Madison Suqare Garden for the first time.

With two minutes remaining Phil phoned -- he had acquired tickets. When I got to the concert hall the woman behind the desk asked "which pair of tickets did I want?" Phil had acquired tickees from a contact in Los Angeles and another in Atlanta. I asked him to book George Strait for Cooperstown on the Sunday night in July. He failed to book him.


* * *

We’ve listened in person on 8-tracs, on cassettes, on CDs from stores, on CDs my son made for Christmas.

George Strait kept me awake on late-night drives from Montreal to Ottawa, helped my through book projects, lifted my spirits and made me think and made me smile.

Heck, he even made me sing along like 100,000 others on Saturday night.

We ran into Laramie Ringolsby, daughter of Hall of Fame ball scribe Tracy Ringolsby early in the concert, right after a Strait close up when he smiled and the women screamed and asked the Dallas Metroplex resident: “how many women in this place would have a crush on George Strait?”

“Oh about 99.99%,” Laramie said.


* * * I’m not the only one who appreciates this guy’s music (he’s been named entertainer of the year three times by the Country Music Association Awards and twice by the ACMs).

I’ve heard people sing his songs walking down the street, on planes and in clubhouses (Pittsburgh Pirates manager Jim Leyland belted out “Drinking Champagne” during a champagne celebration).

We’ve heard guys at their end of their careers and thought it’s a good idea to stop touring ... this guy’s voice isn’t what it used to be. That was not the case with George Strait's voice. He still has range. He climbs high and he still can sound like his influences Bob Wills and Merle Haggard.

We read a reviewer describe his voice as a “mixture of caramel and whiskey.” I’ve never drank that combo. He just sounds good and it’s easy to listen to ... as it has been for years.

For the encores, everyone trooped back on stage, including Asleep at the Wheel lead singer Ray Benson. It was a mass of singing talent you seldom see on the red carpet, never mind singing together as they belted out  “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” and “Folsom Prison Blues.”

And then all the entertainers stepped back and Strait sang “The Cowboy Rides Away,” solo as people on stage and off wiped away tears.

Then, he unhooked his guitar, smiled, left, right, thanked his guests, his band, his fans. He bowed and walking amidst the balloons and confetti, he tossed his hat into the crowd, where it was grabbed by Dallas Stars free agent Vernon Fiddler.

“Oh the last goodbye’s the hardest one to say. This is where the cowboy rides away.”


* * * So, 15 concerts in one province and seven different states. George Strait introduced us to opening acts like Tim McGraw, Sugarland, Faith Hill, Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, The Dixie Chicks and Taylor Swift.

It was the most dough we’d ever paid for a concert and if they’d ask us on the way out we probably would have paid double.


Our top 30 George Strait songs

1. “I can still make Cheyenne”

2. “Amarillo by Morning”

3. “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind”

4. “Troubadour”

5. “I Saw God Today”


6. “I Hate Everything”

7. “A Father’s Love”

8. “Drinking Champagne”

9. “The Best Day”

10. “All My Ex’s Live in Texas”


11. “So Much Like My Dad”

12. “How Bout them Cowgirls?”

13. “If it Wasn’t for Texas”

14. “The Seashores of old Mexico.”

15. “I Cross My Heart”


16. “The Chair”

17. “Blue Clear Sky”

18. “Ocean Front Property”

19. “Heartland.”

20. “Don’t Make Me Come Over There and Love You”


21. “Fool Hearted Memory”

22.  “She’ll Leave you With a Smile”

23. "Carrying Your Love with Me"

24. "Check Yes or No"

25. "Write this Down"


26. “I Just Want to Dance with You”

27. "Baby's Gotten Good at Goodbye"

28. "I Got a Car"

29. "Living for the Night"

30. The Cowboy Rides Away