George Strait celebrated some big news in a surprisingly small way Wednesday night.
In honor of his upcoming box set, Strait Out of the Box: Part 2 – due out Friday, November 18th, exclusively at Walmart – the man used to selling out stadiums played to an intimate crowd of roughly 300 invited guests at Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, Texas, outside San Antonio.
While the location of the performance was kept closely guarded, the secret definitely leaked as easily twice as many people crowded around outside the club to hear Strait and his Ace in the Hole Band perform the pop-up show in the smallest venue the superstar has played in decades.
It was a homecoming for the Texas native, who first played the famed open air dancehall – the state’s oldest – in 1976. He reminisced about trying to win over the owner to get a nighttime gig after playing Sunday afternoons for patrons paying 25 cents at the door. “Mike says we made seven bucks,” recalled Strait with a laugh from the stage, impressed by the memory of his longtime steel guitar player Mike Daily.
While those lean days are well behind the King of Country, he seemed thrilled to be back in such an up close and personal environment, interacting closely with fans, and displaying a chattier-than-usual side of himself.
“Be sure to have fun, or act like you are,” said Strait near the top of the show with a laugh, noting that the performance was being live-streamed on Strait.WranglerNetwork.com.
It was an unnecessary instruction as the folks both inside and out sang along, swayed, and danced from the start of the apt opener “Here For a Good Time” until the last notes of “The Cowboy Rides Away,” clearly thrilled to be in such close proximity.
In between those opening and closing numbers Strait and the band spread 28 songs over the course of two hours. There were hits to which beers were heartily hoisted and voices raised, including the wistful “Amarillo By Morning” and the comic classic “All My Ex’s Live in Texas.” He paid tribute to the legend with a twofer of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” and “Working Man’s Blues” and a run through Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” And he moved all around his own catalog with a clutch of the tunes that will appear on the forthcoming box set.
The three-disc, 56 track collection picks up where the first installment left off, covering the last 20 years of Strait’s hits, his own personal favorites that weren’t released as singles, and two new songs, both of which Strait premiered at Gruene Hall.
“You’ve Gotta Go Through Hell,” penned by Strait, his son Bubba and longtime collaborator Dean Dillon, was a rip-roaring ode to making mischief before making amends. And “Kicked Outta Country,” co-written by Jamey Johnson, takes aim at the way country radio and the industry tend to neglect and take for granted the elder statesmen of the genre – in this case Haggard, Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, and Kris Kristofferson – but that the fans never do.
One of the most poignant moments came near the end of the show when Strait sang “I’ll Always Remember You.” In that moment, in that place it felt as if the sentiment of this Valentine to the fans extended not only to everyone in the room, outside it, and watching online, but to Gruene Hall, Strait’s band and the songs themselves.
Earlier in the day Strait held a small press conference at the venue to reveal the expansion of his series of appearances at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. In addition to already sold-out engagements in December and February, Strait announced 2017 weekend performances April 7th-8th, July 28th-29th, September 1st-2nd, and December 8th-9th.
Billed as “2 Nights of Number 1’s” the singer-songwriter will endeavor to play all 60 of his chart toppers – 30 each night – mixed in with other favorites.
“Burning House” singer Cam will join Strait as an opening act and tickets for all dates go on sale Friday, December 2nd at 1 p.m. ET.