The cowboy rode away nearly two years ago, but you would have never known it listening to his strong and distinctly country voice on Friday.
After a long-celebrated final tour, George Strait returned to the stage last night for the first time since June 2014, the first of a series of shows in Las Vegas, and the King of Country didn't miss a beat.
"It's so good to be back," Strait told the sold-out crowd at the recently opened T-Mobile Arena. "I miss all y'all. I've been looking forward to this for a long, long time."
To be fair, Strait never said that he was done playing shows in 2014, only that he was done "touring" at the time.
And he looked right at home back in the spotlight, as he breezed through a two-hour set of 33 songs, including hits like "Run," "The Chair" and "All My Ex's Live in Texas." But the show was far from a greatest-hits retread, thanks to newer songs like "Cold Beer Conversation" and "Goin' Goin' Gone."
Thirty-five years after his debut single "Unwound" hit radio, the King of Country remains the consummate entertainer. Even if that doesn't include mad gallops across his stage — in the round, as is his custom — or dynamic set pieces. For Strait, simplicity rules.
While most of the songs were from his own catalog, Strait also led the crowd through a tribute to the late Merle Haggard, performing "Mama Tried," "The Fightin' Side of Me" and "My Life's Been Grand" as a medley. Though celebratory, it added a touch of melancholy to an upbeat show.
"It was such a sad day for all of us because he was such a huge influence on my and all the guys up here," Stait said of Haggard. "It's so sad that we'll never be able to see Merle perform live again. His music will live on forever."
While his last touring show in Arlington, Texas, two years ago featured a slew of guests, his Vegas kickoff was all about Strait — and his fans. He satisfied the crowd with "The Fireman" and "Amarillo by Morning," but also tossed in "You Look So Good in Love" for the diehards who have rarely seen him perform the 1983 ballad live.
The night began with Kacey Musgraves in the opening slot, walking to the stage with a mini horse. The visual wasn't lost on Strait.
"We were very fortunate to have a great talent come along with us in Kacey Musgraves," he said, adding, "I gotta get me one of those horses."
For the 20,000 in attendance, though, they got everything they wanted from Strait. And even after two years, it was well worth the wait.
Strait will return to the T-Mobile Arena for a second show tonight, with four more Vegas engagements slotted through the end of the year.