Atlanta Welcomes Strait Back to Touring

His First Show of 2004 Also Offers Dierks Bentley, Kellie Coffey

DULUTH, Ga. — Cowboys like us — and of course the cowgirls too — sure do have fun when George Strait comes to town. From a set list of more than two dozen songs,
it was easy to find several to sing along to Thursday night (Jan. 15) in this Atlanta suburb during the first stop of Strait’s 2004 tour.

That’s part of the fun right there: Watching tough guys in ball caps and flannel shirts eagerly adding their own harmonies to “Check Yes or No” and “Write This Down.” It’s also encouraging to watch young adults, who weren’t even born when “Unwound” came out, swaying in unison on “Tell Me Something Bad About Tulsa.”

If anybody in country music can bring a crowd together, it’s Strait. You like the new stuff? Here’s “She’ll Leave You With a Smile.” Prefer the old? Enjoy “Amarillo by Morning.” (As merely the eighth song in the set, it got a standing ovation.) Even if you believe nothing recorded after 1981 is worth listening to, stick around for tunes written by Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash.

Strait performed in the round, although his stage didn’t revolve. Instead, he sang two songs, then moved onto the next side of the square stage for two more. (Most women will tell you that the rear view doesn’t bother them a bit.) He was fairly chatty at the Georgia show perhaps because he’d been off the road for quite a while. But after thanking Atlanta a few times, it was all music — “The Chair,” “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind,” “The Fireman,” “The Best Day” and so on. He also mixed in a few album tracks from last year’s Honkytonkville.

Personally, I can’t remember the last Western swing I heard in concert but it sure is refreshing to hear those twin fiddles — which is not the same thing as simply having two fiddle players in a band, as any Texas musician will tell you. Strait also pulled out a few relative oldies that radio sadly doesn’t play much anymore, like “Blue Clear Sky,” “I Can Still Make Cheyenne” and “Run.”

The sound inside the Gwinnett Center was probably louder than it needed to be, considering this was an arena and not a football stadium. But other than that, King George still satisfies the people. And he doesn’t need to be flashy to do so. In fact, it was somewhat of a surprise when the spotlights changed colors within the same song and then suddenly all came on at once!

Dierks Bentley and Kellie Coffey each warmed up the crowd with 30-minute sets. Coffey went on first, offering new material (“Texas Plates”) and her signature hit “When You Lie Next to Me.” Her experience on Kenny Chesney’s tour last year has only added to her stage presence, which was already strong. (She previously sang background vocals for Barbra Streisand, so she knows how to hold her own.)

Meanwhile, Bentley moved into the big leagues with this tour, having played clubs for the last six months. But that’s what a No.1 hit (“What Was I Thinkin'”) will do for a career. Still, he seemed in full control on what must have been a nerve-wracking night. He also let his multi-talented bass player Michelle Poe take a shot at the mike to introduce her upcoming single “One of the Boys.” And after sleeping on a bus with five other guys, for months at a time, she’s surely writing from experience.

Bentley also told the crowd that he was there to see George Strait too — and it’s true. He and Poe were spotted in the crowd about halfway through Strait’s set. Everybody else was too busy singing along to notice.

George Strait’s Set List:

“Honk If You Honky Tonk”
“Check Yes or No”
“I Can Still Make Cheyenne”
“Stars on the Water”
“Love Bug”
“Murder on Music Row”
“Amarillo By Morning”
“Blue Clear Sky”
“When Did You Stop Loving Me”
“The Chair”
“Write This Down”
“She’ll Leave You With a Smile”
“Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind”
“Take Me Back to Tulsa”
“Milkcow Blues”
“The Fireman”
“Tell Me Something Bad About Tulsa”
“Cowboys Like Us”
“My Life’s Been Grand”
“The Best Day”
“The Road Less Traveled”
“Folsom Prison Blues”
“The Cowboy Rides Away”

Dierks Bentley’s Set List:

“Bartenders, Etc. …”
“How Am I Doin'”
“Wish It Would Break”
“One of the Boys” [Michelle Poe] “My Last Name”
“What Was I Thinkin'”

Craig Shelburne has been writing for since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.