My parents have great taste in music. If asked to piece together a soundtrack of my childhood it would include songs by Reba, The Statler Brothers, Randy Travis, Johnny Horton, and George Strait — just to name a few. There are many songs on “classic” country radio stations today that spark waves of nostalgia for me. It only takes a few notes, and I am immediately plucked from reality and dropped into my family’s early-80s Good Times Van. We are on a road trip, headed to see family, and I’m either huddled next to a speaker in the backseat or kneeling between the two captain’s chairs up front — watching for the “Welcome to South Dakota” sign and singing along.

I never grew out of country music. I never embraced Alternative or Grunge or even mainstream Pop, like most of my friends in junior high and high school. And those favorites introduced to me by my parents thirty years ago — most of them are still my favorites. Some of them are still recording, and one in particular is still at the top of his game.

About a year ago, George Strait announced dates for his final tour and after seeing he’d be close by in Tulsa — we talked about going. But then we hatched a plan. The Tulsa date was the weekend of my Mom’s birthday, and tickets for her would make the perfect Christmas gift. So we conspired with my Dad to keep her from buying tickets to the San Antonio show — no easy feat, y’all, she’s literally a card-carrying member of his fan club. We surprised her with a ticket for Christmas, and the three of us made plans to spend an evening with George in April.

Time flew, as it does, and April 19th arrived.

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You’ll notice cheesy “credentials” around our necks. But of course! We couldn’t just go see George — we had to spring for VIP passes and GREAT seats. I’ve never had such good seats for a concert!

Close enough for a selfie with George!

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The stage was shaped like a diamond, with a microphone at each point. Our seats were centered on one of the points so as he rotated around, singing a few songs at each mike, we began to realize we could have some amazing seats for some of our favorite songs. We joked that if he sang The Chair at our mike my Mom might just faint. He sang it alright, but it was the last song at the mike just before us — still incredible to hear it live!

Ronnie Dunn opened for him so we felt like we got two concerts in one. Ronnie Dunn is a superstar in his own right, and was amazing! Ronnie came back out during George’s set and they did Amarillo by Morning together — perfect.

During the show, I would wonder aloud, “do you think he’ll play ___?” and Jeff kept reminding me we’d be there for a week if he played ALL the good stuff. But he sure tried. He played classics, he played newer hits, and he even did a few covers. No Baby Blue – my all-time favorite – but he made up for it with five encores ending with The Cowboy Rides Away. I could’ve stayed all night to hear more. What a show.

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The Cowboy Rides Away
Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas, Mom!
Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas, Mom!

Just about the time we were gearing up for George, Scott and Tena asked if we were interested in seeing Willie Nelson with them at the new outdoor AMP in Northwest Arkansas. Of course! Bring on the country music legends!

Willie was touring with Alison Krauss, who’s got a voice like an angel and can play the fiddle like nobody’s business, and of course we were in. Willie is one of the only people who could get away with decorating his stage with a giant Texas flag — at a show in Northwest Arkansas. But hey – he’s Willie. He’s the kinda guy who’s earned the right to do things like wear sweat pants and sneakers during his concerts! Yup – we noticed on one of the big screens at the side of the stage – the camera caught Willie in his comfy clothes!

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Willie

We were prepared for a hot, sweaty evening, but our seats were in a perfect spot for the breeze to cut through the AMP — it was gorgeous. July in Arkansas and we were sitting outside, cool breeze blowing, listening to Willie with some of our favorite people.

Jeff and Sarah, Scott and Tena | Willie Nelson, July 2014
Jeff and Sarah, Scott and Tena | Willie Nelson, July 2014

But wait! There’s more! We really didn’t set out to concert-hop from one country music legend to the next this summer, but we’re happy it worked out that way. One final concert to round out the summer — Tim McGraw. He’s got 20 years of hits, but he’s also got my favorite song of the summer — Meanwhile Back at Mama’s. I cannot get enough of it. It’s the kind of poetry that makes me love country music in the first place.

Is that enough country music gushing and photos of hot, sweaty concert-goers? Good! I’ll leave you with a video of what happens when a Louisiana boy mentions those nasty ole Tigers in Northwest Arkansas. Go Hogs!

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