George Strait Sings New Songs, Remembers Late Drummer at Vegas Concert - Rolling Stone
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George Strait Debuts New Songs, Honors Late Drummer at Las Vegas Concert

Country’s king returns to the stage for the first time since the death of longtime bandmate Mike Kennedy

George StraitGeorge Strait

George Strait, shown here onstage in Las Vegas in 2016, performed his first concert since the death of drummer Mike Kennedy on Friday.

Ethan Miller/Getty

On Friday night, George Strait took the stage in Las Vegas for the 19th show of his Strait to Vegas residency, but for first time in almost three decades, something was noticeably different.

“We had some tragedy that happened to us Labor Day weekend,” Strait said a few minutes into the concert. “We lost our drummer of almost 30 years, Mike Kennedy. God bless him. We didn’t know how we were going to handle this.”

Kennedy, the drummer of Strait’s Ace in the Hole backing band for nearly 30 years, died August 31st, following a car accident.

Strait said Kennedy wouldn’t want anything to change. “I know Mike would want us to keep going, so we are,” he told the sold-out crowd at the T-Mobile Arena.

With Kennedy’s memory looming large, the Ace in the Hole band got to work with new drummer Lonnie Wilson, who has played with Brooks & Dunn, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood and John Michael Montgomery. For the next two hours, Strait performed a mixture of old hits, from his debut single “Unwound” to rodeo anthems like “I Can Still Make Cheyenne,” as well as new songs, including his celebration of tequila, “Código,” released just a few hours before the concert.

“That’s on Spotify right now,” a tech-savvy Strait told the crowd, many of whom were hearing the song for the first time. Strait also debuted a few new tracks, including “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar” and “God and Country Music,” off an upcoming album the singer said would be titled Honky Tonk Time Machine.

Although Strait began his Las Vegas residency in 2016, he has managed to keep it fresh over the years with different iterations, whether it was playing only Number One songs or transforming himself as “Dusty,” his fictional character from 1992’s Pure Country. In all of the residency shows, however, he’s delved deep into his much-celebrated catalog. On Friday, he followed up his 1994 Top 10 “Lead On” with “Arkansas Dave,” written by his son Bubba Strait for 2009’s Twang, before seamlessly seguing into Johnny Paycheck’s “Old Violin.” He also made time for a tribute to Merle Haggard, offering “You Take Me for Granted” and “Are the Good Times Really Over (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver).”

“That’s good stuff right there,” he said, perhaps not realizing that he himself is a living legend.

At this point in the Strait to Vegas residency, the King is on cruise control, but he’s hardly stagnant — rather, he knows what’s necessary and knows the speed limit, but continues to push the boundaries. At 66, and with new music ahead of him, he’s still evolving.

The Fireman
Check Yes or No
I Can Still Make Cheyenne
Write This Down
Cold Beer Conversation
Ocean Front Property
Baby Blue
She’ll Leave You With a Smile
I Cross My Heart
Take Me to Texas
Lead On
Arkansas Dave
The Old Violin
God and Country Music
You Take Me for Granted
Are the Good Times Really Over
Here for a Good Time
Give It All We Got Tonight
Every Little Honky Tonk Bar
Give It Away
The Chair
Amarillo by Morning
You Look So Good in Love
I’ll Always Remember You

All My Ex’s Live in Texas
I Saw God Today
You Wreck Me
The Cowboy Rides Away

In This Article: George Strait


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