George Strait made his way down a red carpet inside AT&T Stadium, stepped onto a revolving stage he’s only used twice before in his career and picked up his black acoustic guitar.
If it wasn’t for the record crowd of more than 104,000 around him, it might’ve been any other night.
But it was far from business as usual Saturday: The final show on the Cowboy Rides Away tour, a two-year farewell to regular touring, was a star-packed extravaganza surpassing even Strait’s stadium christening five years ago.
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Strait, the quiet cowboy from Poteet, acknowledged that the evening “has been on my mind since we started this tour two years ago.”
Vince Gill, Faith Hill, Eric Church, Jason Aldean, Martina McBride and Sheryl Crow — to name just a few — joined Strait and his Ace in the Hole Band for brief cameos, performing Strait hits and country classics like Jackson.
The AT&T Stadium parking lot began filling up with what would become a North American indoor concert record of 104,793 fans hours before the opening acts took the stage. Strait shattered the previous record, set by the Rolling Stones in 1981 at the Louisiana Superdome.
Southeast Texas residents Julie and Kody Kee, 29, made sure to grab tickets as soon as they became available.
“We bought tickets when they first went on sale in December. Pre-sale, actually,” Julie said. “We were waiting for a long time.”
The Kees and their friend John Pryor, 32, drove up from Houston and Galveston for the farewell show and shelled out $120 for tailgate parking.
“It’s his last show,” Kody said, kicking up his feet on the lawn chairs in one of hundreds of tents lined up outside. “We’ve got to go all-in.”
Having traveled more than 1,000 miles from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Maria Hubbard got to go to the final show courtesy of her son as a 51st birthday gift. She had seen Strait in one of his first shows in 1981, where she heard one of his earliest hits, Unwound.
“Women were throwing bras at him back then,” Hubbard said. “His show was awesome. They need to bring music like his back.”
Friends Natalie and Orlando Diaz, 50, joined her from McKinney and said they both had seen Strait in concert several times in high school and college.
“He’s a true cowboy,” Orlando said. “A Texas original.”
Natalie remembers seeing him perform at a dance hall called the Crystal Chandelier in New Braunfels.
“He stays close to his roots,” she said. “It’s nice to come back and see that after all these years.”
The Diazes said Strait transcends all generations, and the age range of those gathered in the parking lot illustrated that.
“This is the greatest day of my life,” said Samuel Kupp, 25, of Dallas. He and his cousin Jake Kupp, also 25, remember growing up listening to Strait.
“As a Texan, you’re required to come see this,” said Chase Parker, 24, of Dallas.
Fans said that they are sad to see Strait leave the national touring life but were comforted to know that new music would continue and that they can still catch him at special events.
Despite the sadness, support rang out for his decision to retire.
“I think he needs to relax, spend some time with his grandchildren,” Hubbard said. “Tonight will still be awesome. We know he loves his fans.”
Some fans left the door open for him to change his mind.
“Any artist in the spotlight, they can do what they want to do and come back or leave when they want,” Pryor said. “He can come back tomorrow if he wants.”