Taylor Swift is still getting comfortable with the concept that George Strait and Ronnie Milsap know who she is and are familiar with her music. In fact, a defining moment came earlier this month when she and Milsap first met when they hit the road during Strait's national tour.
Recalling her initial encounter with Milsap, the newcomer told CMT Insider, "He said to me, 'I love your album, girl,' and I said, 'You listened to my album?! You're Ronnie Milsap!' He's so great. He's one of the coolest famous people I've ever met."
With her self-titled debut album just going gold and her first single, "Tim McGraw," still in the Top 10, Swift is also getting used to the reality that she's opening arena shows for Strait and Milsap, two of the biggest hitmakers in country music history.
"I was born in 1989, so I've never known a world without George Strait," Swift said. "I've just loved his music since the day I was born. Watching his show, it's hit after hit after hit, and I know the words to every single song. It's just unbelievable that that I'm on tour with him. I'm so excited.
"Touring with George Strait is so cool because he's a living legend. About a month ago, I was at the CMA Awards and saw him get inducted into the Hall of Fame. And about a week later, I found out I was going to be out on tour with him for his entire tour. It's a dream come true."
Swift got her first taste of being on a major tour in late 2006 when she opened a series of shows for Rascal Flatts.
"That went so great," she said. "It was a perfect audience match, and I was wondering how the transition would be with the George Strait tour. ... It's so amazing -- seeing that the audience really does stay the same."
Milsap has high praise for Swift's talents.
"I think she's incredible," Milsap told CMT Insider. "She is wonderful -- and to have that opportunity at this point in her life. ... I understand she was involved with the writing of every song on her CD, and that's just great. They say she owns the stage, so she's got the confidence. She's a star already."
As for Strait, Milsap explains, "We've been fans of each other's for years. He's a sweet guy. ... And this is the most fun I've had. The audiences are so enthusiastic. They're so great. ... George has his huge fan base, and I've got people coming to see me for years. I think our shows are similar but different enough."
Milsap's portion of the show is a mix of his past hits and new songs from his recent album, My Life. He openly acknowledges that he's hoping the live performances at the sold-out shows will help convince country radio programmers to play his records.
"There's all kinds of alternative ways of selling music," Milsap said. "There's nothing, still, that compares to country radio airplay. There's nothing that absolutely sells records better. ... Airplay still is the way. ... I was looking for the visibility of being on this show with George because I have a new CD out on RCA, and I want to try to help it as much as I can. ... So we get to talk about it and play a couple of songs from that during my show."
As much as Milsap enjoys the process of recording an album, he still finds his greatest musical thrills onstage.
"My band has been with me for 20 years, and we just enjoy playing together," he said. "It's all about teamwork. The audience is what drives all this. ... There are times they will make you do something better than you ever dreamed you would. And it's just a split second in time -- and they bring out the best in you, I think."
Strait's tour with Milsap and Swift continues Thursday (Jan. 25) in Portland, Ore., followed by shows Friday in Boise, Idaho, and Saturday in Tacoma, Wash. Concert dates are scheduled through March 10.
Editor's note: CMT Insider's Laura Douglas conducted the interviews used in this report.