It’s a scene you know well: A man ambles onto the stage. Screaming erupts. He tips his hat. More rapturous hysterics. You can’t help but stomp along with the crowd, as if to prove to the man just how fervently you idolize him.
He plays only a few dates in his home state of Texas every year (his last two tours bypassed us entirely). So when news drops of a new arena tour—like the nationwide one he’ll be kicking off in Austin this month and ending in Lubbock in March—the same feeling bubbles up in the hearts of Texans everywhere. George Strait is coming.
Take a minute to consider our collective passion for the man, however. The songs he sings usually fall into three categories: tender, well-built love ballads; honky-tonk hooks with G-rated double entendres; and the occasional ode to beer drinking. He actually underuses (to great effect, granted) his smooth baritone. He is famously mum about his personal life—a deliberate choice made even more resolute after his daughter’s death in a car accident, in 1986. And he has a remarkably uncomplicated—even boring—biography.
Most of us can recite it by heart: Born in Poteet in 1952, raised in Pearsall. Eloped to Mexico with his high school sweetheart, Norma, and joined the Army. Sang with a military country band when he was stationed in Hawaii. Was back in Texas by 1975, attending school in San Marcos and booking regular gigs with the Ace in the Hole Band at Cheatham Street Warehouse. Before long, Nashville came a-callin’, and by 1983 he had two popular albums and his first number one single, “Fool Hearted Memory.”
You have to admire a guy who knows who he is and what he’s good at. Perhaps our affection stems from his consistency: His steadiness of character and musical dependability, which would grow stale if adopted by a lesser talent, are comfortingly familiar. Or maybe it’s his everyman appeal. You get the feeling that if you took away all his accolades—that is, a record 55 number one singles, more than twenty concert attendance records across the country, the fact that he has more certified records than anyone except Elvis and the Beatles—he’d go about his business (clearing brush on his ranch, steer roping with his son) in much the same way and be just as happy.
Other stars experiment with alter egos (Garth’s rock star concept album comes to mind) and other genres (only Willie could sing honky-tonk and reggae and the blues). By not wavering from his new-traditionalist sound, Strait has risen above the industry’s perennial mudslinging, rabble–rousing debate over what constitutes “real” country. But there’s also something deeper. In his stubborn commitment to substance over style, it’s as if Strait reminds us of our distinctiveness as Texans. We’ve anointed him our (unofficial) state troubadour because his authenticity taps into our core aspirations. Whereas Willie is a national icon—embraced by Americans of every stripe—George Strait belongs solely to Texas. He’s from here, he’s of here. He’s ours. In Austin on January 10 at the Frank Erwin Center; 512-471-7744, uterwincenter.com
The cattle breeders who decided to gather along Fort Worth’s Marine Creek in 1896 to drum up business for the local meat market would hardly believe that today’s Southwestern
Exposition and Livestock Show draws nearly a million folks—many of whom (gasp) don’t even know a Santa Gertrudis from a Charolais—every year. But they might be proud of its evolution: Not only is the show the oldest continually running event of its kind, but it’s also been one of the most innovative. A long list of its milestones can be rattled off like
bids at the Sale of Champions: first to have an indoor rodeo, first to feature Brahman bull riding, first to introduce side-release chutes, first “halftime” rodeo performance (starring none other than Singing Cowboy Gene Autry), first to have live television coverage of a complete rodeo (hosted by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans), and so on.
To anyone pushing through the turnstile at the Will Rogers Memorial complex this month, such forward thinking will be evident—though not necessarily in animal matters. W. R. Watt Jr., who’s presided over the stock show since his father, who ran it for thirty years, died in 1977, has made several pragmatic moves in the past decade to diversify the show’s lineup, and thus its audience. The most recent add is Bull’s Night Out, a showcase of top-ranked PRCA cowboys and loud rock that taps into bull riding’s spike in popularity.
But the one garnering the most attention is the Best of Mexico Celebración, emceed by fourth–generation charro Jerry Diaz and featuring flashy trick roping, daring horse riding, folklórico dancing, and mariachi music. Once just a rodeo intermission act, the two-hour variety show has been luring a demographic that’s more reflective of the city’s burgeoning Hispanic population—and a key to the ongoing future of Fort Worth’s signature event. In Fort Worth from January 11 to February 3 at the Will Rogers Memorial complex; 817-877-2400, fwssr.com
March, They Say
San Antonio’s MLK March and Commemoration is not a parade. “We’re very adamant about that,” a city representative explained recently. “Martin Luther King didn’t hold any parades.” The point might seem negligible, but when you claim to be the largest MLK march in the country—in a year that marks the fortieth anniversary of King’s death, no less—these distinctions are important. Despite the fact that San Antonio’s population is less than 7 percent African American, more than 100,000 people will gather this year at the MLK Freedom Bridge for the three-mile walk to Pittman-Sullivan Park, where Little Rock Nine alum Terrence Roberts will address the heterogeneous crowd. Will there be chanting, singing, and all manner of signs? Of course. But this is not so much a celebration of King’s birthday as a potent—and reverential—reminder of his nonviolent approach. “It was through the march that he was able to change this nation,” says Gloria Ray, the head of the city’s MLK Commission. “He demonstrated how the will of the people could be exerted.” In San Antonio on January 21 at the MLK Freedom Bridge; 210-207-7224, sanantonio.gov/mlk