We’re just about to wrap up our month-long review of some of MIMO’s more intriguing pieces from last year, but we didn’t want to finish without pulling out this gem from our country writer Rob Burkhardt. Rob has some interesting insights on George Strait’s undying popularity, which could be food for thought for some of the genre’s current up-and-comers. Enjoy! –Ed.
The long career of George Strait, the undisputed reigning “King of Country,” is a perfect example of the extreme loyalty of country music fans. After more than 30 years playing “old school,” western-swing country music, Strait still packs out major venues and sells plenty of records, and his singles are still consistently hitting near the top of the country charts. (Last year’s release Here for a Good Time was Strait’s 39th studio record; it peaked at Number 1 on the charts and received a Grammy nomination for Best Country Album.)
I had the chance to catch George Strait on tour last year—a double billing with Reba McEntire. It was a sold-out show in a venue holding around 15,000 people. Reba was typically Reba, put on an outstanding show, and the fans ate it up. No surprise there. But when Strait came out for his set, there was really nothing spectacular about it. No pyrotechnics, no crazy on-stage antics (this ain’t Garth Brooks, after all). The stage was set up as a diamond in the middle of the arena, and George Strait, carrying his guitar, methodically walked up to a microphone set on one corner of the diamond, sang two songs, walked to the next corner, sang two songs, and so on—all the way around the diamond, for 27 songs. Very understated, very low-key, almost sleepy.
And yet, after every song, the crowd acted like Strait had just played like Elvis. Extremely enthusiastic, from start to finish, for almost two hours.
What is it about this guy that he can bring such an amazing crowd reaction, with very little effort on his part? What makes George Strait so damn popular?
Well, I think perhaps it’s a variety of things. First of all, speaking as a man—let’s face it, the guy is handsome, even at his age. He still carries a certain appeal with the ladies, as well as the gentlemen who brought ‘em to the show.
Second—I think his music is very accessible. He sings about everyday things, and his melodies are easy to sing along to (especially keyed to his medium-low voice). The crowd at the show I attended sometimes almost drowned him out singing along.
And third—he just plays good country music. This guy is definitely not a crossover artist, he’s not trying to sing pop or rock like some of the modern groups. His traditional, Texas-flavored western swing style appeals to the die-hard, country music fan base. (And gauging from the results, the fan base is large, and loyal.)
The bottom line is that George Strait comes across as authentic—the real deal. As a result, he appeals to a large number of people, and his fan base is just as authentic as he is. (You certainly can’t accuse the guy of putting too much hype into it.) The lesson, if there is one, is to be successful as a country artist, you don’t necessarily need to out-perform the next guy. You just need to be yourself, be real, and be very good at what you do.