If you showed up at the George Strait concert Thursday having heard of him, but never heard him, you may have thought "How does this guy win all those awards? He just stands there and sings."
Yes, he does. No antics. No jokes. No dancing. That seems to be the way his fans like it. Strait may have been named the "Entertainer of the Year," but a better title might be "Spokesman of the Year."He sings from the heart to the heart of the country. He's something of a sentimental journalist offering insights into the ways and means of middle America. Asking him to juggle and dance would be a bit like asking Dan Rather to do the two-step to the news.
Strait's strengths are his Texas roots and John Wayne manner. If he were to break into a lively patter and start playing the guitar behind his back, fans all over America would begin to mourn.
But Salt Lake City got Strait straight - as does every other city he visits.
And Patty Loveless gave the concert a strong opening act. Since she was here at the Westerner a few years ago she's learned to sing. "Timber" and "Chains" were especially strong.
After a long intermission (problems with the sound equipment) Strait opened his set with an old Hank Snow tune and a Hank Williams song just to get "loosened up" a bit, then he launched into a classic set of old, new, borrowed and blue tunes.
With Bud Light backing his tour this time around, there was money to spend. Much of it went into some elaborate backdrops that recreated scenes from the Texas plains for the Texas songs, the Arizona desert for the cowboy numbers and the inside of a honky-tonk for the swing tunes.
Women brought roses to the stage by the dozens (as expected). People also set dozens of boots by the mike for the singer to sign (rather unexpected.)
The Ace in the Hole Band was as taut as ever. With seven members from Texas and one from way up north in Oklahoma City, the group knows every move Strait's going to make before he makes it.
Some purists (my brother the country crooner, to name one) felt the hoopla tended to clutter things and mask the Asleep at the Wheel precision of the band. And Strait himself seemed to strum less than ever. For many, it left an uneasy feeling that the singer has become isolated and insulated by fame. All the lights and special effects. Some fans miss the rodeo days.
Still, there was no questioning the professionalism. Strait breezed through "The Chair," "Drinking Champagne," "Amarillo by Morning," "The Fireman" and half-a-dozen other hits. He's had so many No. 1 songs over the years that he's been forced leave out some of the songs that got him where he is. There was no "You'll Always Be A Fire I Can't Put Out" on Thursday, no "Fool-hearted Memory" or "Baby Blue." And since Strait refuses to do medleys, it may be some time before the songs are recycled for concert consumption.
In the end, however, it's doubtful anyone left the hall feeling ripped off. Just the mood and tone of a George Strait concert is payment enough. In an era of glitz, glimmer and tinsel, some good-old-boy charm from the farm goes a long, long way.