By Andrew Alexander
Many a football legend has played upon the hallowed ground inside Tiger Stadium over the years, but rarely has royalty visited Death Valley.
That all changes this Friday when George Strait takes the stage at the fifth annual Bayou Country Superfest in Tiger Stadium as part of his “Cowboy Rides Away Tour.”
In its brief history, Superfest has featured several country music heavyweights, including Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney and the Zac Brown Band.
But the “King of Country” is arguably the biggest name to grace the BCS stage yet.
Strait enters Baton Rouge at the tail end of an illustrious 33-year career that features 60 number-one hits and a song catalog filled countless others.
“I’m excited about the tour,” Strait said. “It’s a little bittersweet for me. It’s starting to sink in.”
Chris Young and Reba will open for The King on Friday, just two of the many acts Strait has had opening for him throughout the two-year tour.
Among the special guests joining Strait during his swan song tour have been Jason Aldean, Eric Church (who are both taking the BCS stage on Sunday), Sheryl Crow, Merle Haggard and Miranda Lambert.
“We wanted to get some guys that are really relevant now to come out, and I think it will be a lot of fun,” Strait said. “Some of the acts I’ve never worked with before like Eric Church. Merle Haggard has been one of my main influences.”
Tiger Stadium isn’t the only football venue Strait will play at during the tour. Strait’s final show will be at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, on June 7.
“I’ve been a Cowboy fan my whole life,” Strait said. “My dad was, I am, my son is and I’ll be working on my grandson”
Though this is officially Strait’s final tour, the King has no intentions of hanging up his guitar any time soon. MCA Records, the label Strait has recorded 40 albums with, has signed the country legend to a new contract to record five more albums.
“My plan is to keep doing things here and there when I feel like it, and hopefully those opportunities will come along for me because I can’t see hanging it up for good ever,” Strait said. “As long as I’m enjoying it, I’m going to keep doing it.”
Lately Strait has rediscovered his passion for song writing, which is something he has strayed from over the years.
“If I have one regret in my career, which has been great, it would be that I quit writing for years,” Strait explained. “Starting out I loved to write then I kind of got away from it. I found great songs from some great writers in Nashville, but now I’m getting back into it. I’m writing with my son and other writers, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Among the many classics on the set list, Strait said “Amarillo by Morning” and “Troubadour” are two of his favorites to sing.
“I really like doing ‘I’ll Always Remember You’ because when I wrote it, it was to say something back to the fans for how much they’ve meant to me over the years,” Strait said.
Whether it’s an early hit or a recent favorite, through the years, Strait has remained consistent with one thing in particular: picking out excellent melodies.
“I’ve always said the melody is what grabs me first if I’m looking for material for a record. I think that without a great melody a song’s not going to go too far. A great melody can do a lot for a bad lyric, but the other way around just doesn’t work out. The melody is what catches my ear first now that I’m writing more, discovering how hard those great melodies are to come to; it even makes it more special.”
As Strait’s career winds down, the country music icon isn’t worried about the survival of the traditional country music genre.
“(Country Music) definitely has evolved a lot. I compare it to a pendulum; it swings one way then back the other. Traditional country music will always be around. It gets away from time to time, but it always seems to come back. Even though a lot of people out there don’t think what’s being played is traditional country music the guys that are doing it, more power to them.
Strait has chosen to end all his shows on the final tour with one of his earliest hit songs, “The Cowboy Rides Away.”
The country ballad is a perfect ending for a legend as he rides into the musical sunset.
In the words of Strait himself, “Oh the last goodbye’s the hardest one to say. And this is where the cowboy rides away.”