On the Cover: The Cowboy Rides Away

This month’s cover is a tribute to a man who has lived a most wonderful life in music: George Strait. The Troubador. The King of Country. Last of the Real Cowboys. He has the most Gold, Platinum and multi-Platinum albums in the history of country music.
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The King of Country, with guitar.

Photo: Cooper Neill/Getty Images

This month’s cover is a tribute to a man who has lived a most wonderful life in music: George Strait. The Troubador. The King of Country. Last of the Real Cowboys. He has the most Gold, Platinum and multi-Platinum albums in the history of country music. He has recorded the most Number 1 and Top 5 songs of any artist in any genre, and he’s the only artist ever to have a Top 10 hit in each year for 30 years straight. He’s the reigning CMA and ACM Entertainer of the Year and was recently named a Legend of Live by Billboard. He is also a quiet, kind and generous man who over the course of a 43-year marriage to his high school sweetheart, Norma, and 35-plus years in the music business, has absolutely done things his own way.

Strait’s backing band, Ace in the Hole, has remained pretty much intact since the first honkytonk and club gigs throughout Texas during his college years in the mid-1970s. And he has tremendous loyalty to his fans, touring annually to all parts of the country for 35 years now. When he began his two-year farewell, The Cowboy Rides Away tour, tickets sold out in hours, both arenas and stadiums. The tour ended on June 7, 2014, in front of 104,739 (a single-show North American record) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, with a 3-hour-and-40-minute set that included guests Martina McBride, Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Faith Hill, Miranda Lambert, Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean, Eric Church, Sheryl Crow and opening act Asleep at the Wheel. Just a few friends, all of who have opened for Strait on this final go-around.

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An audience of 104,739 as seen from the catwalk atop AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas.

Photo: Jill Trunnell

Mix wrote about the first leg of the tour in March 2013, with McBride as opener. To recap. He’s always played in the round and he still owns his original, first-year-they-came-out L-Acoustics V-DOSC P.A., since upgraded piece by piece, to Kudos, K1s and K2s. The tour, as it has been for years, was supported by Onstage Systems of Dallas, with supplements for the June 7 show from Clearwing Productions.

“George actually opened this building back in 2009, when it was still being finished,” says FOH mixer George Olson, who has been with Strait for 11 years, the past seven at the console. “There’s a picture somewhere of him wearing a hard hat during load-in! Then for the past two years, he’s closed every show with ‘The Cowboy Rides Away,’ and I thought to myself, with all these artists on stage, ‘Wow! He really is riding away.’ The energy in that building, what it felt like around all those artists and fans, none of us could have ever imagined it.”

“Being in monitor world when you’re in the round is incredible,” adds monitor engineer Josh Kaylor. “You’re just hit from all directions by screaming fans. When they announce George’s name and he comes out, it gives me chills every time. Just hearing that roar. I want to say thanks to George for giving me a chance all those years ago as a young, green audio guy eager to learn. I will cherish it forever.”

So, no more George Strait tours, though he has said there will be one-offs and special events. And he just signed a new five-record deal with MCA, so there will be George Strait music. That’s a great thing. When you live during the making of a legend’s legend, it’s sometimes hard to recognize. Here’s to George Strait.