George Brings Twang to Music City

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It was a back-to-the-basics Nashville homecoming on Saturday night (Sept. 11), as George Strait, Reba McEntire and Lee Ann Womack took to the stage at Bridgestone Arena, replacing LED screens and glitzy costumes with the sounds of twin fiddles and steel guitars.

Lee Ann set the tone for the evening with the first strains of “San Antonio Rose,” as well as her hits “A Little Past Little Rock” and “I May Hate Myself in the Morning.” Growing sassy, she strutted around the diamond-shaped stage with “I’ll Think of a Reason Later,” the tale of a lady who’s jealous of the seemingly perfect woman who is engaged to her ex. “Do you know anyone like that? Don’t we all?” quipped Lee Ann. With a voice a strong as it is vulnerable, she belted out her biggest hit, 2000’s “I Hope You Dance,” with the crowd enthusiastically singing along and granting her a standing ovation.

Clad in an all-black ensemble, Reba’s still-majestic voice was as clear and vibrant as ever as she kicked off her nearly 90-minute set with her first No. 1 single, 1982’s “Can’t Even Get the Blues.” Promising the crowd a musical trip, she worked her way around stage, playing to the audience and sailing through a mix of her latest hits, including “Strange” and “I Keep On Loving You,” as well as classics such as “Why Haven’t I Heard From You” and “Whoever’s In New England.”

Reba’s set featured surprisingly sparse production in contrast with her concert spectaculars of the ‘90s. The sound of a single gunshot rang through the arena, punctuating the lyrics of “The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia.” “Do you know what the best part of watching westerns is?” she asked the crowd at one point, “The good-looking cowboy!” she quipped as she flirted her way through “I Want a Cowboy,” while images of John Wayne, Michael Landon, Clint Eastwood, Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks and, of course, George Strait appeared on the screens.

Even with that stunning voice and her warm, open personality, it was Reba’s special guests who were the highlights of the evening. She welcomed Lee Ann back to the stage for the dramatic “Does He Love You.” Reba and Lee Ann playfully faced off from opposite sides of the stage for most of the song, exchanging hateful glances and catty vocals. Reba's TV sitcom co-star Melissa Peterman’s surprise appearance (and attempts to join Reba in singing the show’s theme song, “I’m a Survivor”) had the audience laughing. Still, it was Ronnie Dunn’s appearance on “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” that had the audience instantly on its feet. (Reba joined Ronnie and Kix during Brooks & Dunn’s farewell concert a week earlier at the same venue.)

And the fans who were beginning to miss the over-the-top costumes from decades past? She had a little surprise for them, too. After leaving the stage, chants of “Reba, Reba, Reba” filled the air. Only moments later, as scenes from the video “Fancy” showed on the screen, a yellow taxi rolled through the crowd and pulled up to the stage. Reba, decked out in a short, fringed, ruby-red number, took the stage to belt out her classic rags-to-riches tale.

“It’s been too long since I’ve done a concert here,” George greeted the crowd, to the wild agreement of the audience. Indeed it’s been six years since “King George” has performed in Nashville. Even with a warm voice and a classic cowboy image that has aged well over his 30-plus-year career, George has always let the songs be the star. He must have felt the Nashville crowd needed a little twang, as he kicked off the concert with his hit single of the same name before launching into his 1987 hit “Ocean Front Property.”

George spoke sparingly during the set, but with more than 50 No. 1 singles to his credit, does he really need to? Instead he packed in “Wrapped Around,” “Run,” “Check Yes or No,” “The Chair,” “How 'Bout Them Cowgirls,” “The Fireman” and the Merle Haggard-penned “Seashores of Old Mexico.” He gave a nod to his starring role in Pure Country with “Heartland,” and praised his home state in “Texas.”

George knows how to give his fans what they want, and that included an encore featuring "All My Ex's Live in Texas,” “High Tone Woman” and the Johnny Cash classic “Folsom Prison Blues." After closing with the aptly titled “The Cowboy Rides Away," the humble superstar waved to the enthusiastic throng and exited the stage  But he left them with a smile.

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