Next year, George Strait is preparing to play his most extensive stadium run in nine years since he completed his two-year “The Cowboy Rides Away” tour in 2014.
The country titan and his Ace in the Hole Band will perform six stadium dates starting May 6 at Glendale, Arizona’s State Farm Stadium and ending Aug. 5 at Tampa, Florida’s Raymond James Stadium. All stops will feature Chris Stapleton and Little Big Town.
“It just felt right,” Strait tells Billboard via email of the mini-tour. “I had the opportunity to work with Chris and Little Big Town and everything just kind of fell in place for next year. I don’t do that many shows anymore, so if we can do a stadium where we can play for more people, that works for me.”
In 2012, Strait announced that he wasn’t “retiring,” but that “the old road-warrior days are just going to be over” after more than 30 years of touring. In 2016, he began an affiliation with Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, which saw him playing several times a year at the venue (the Las Vegas dates will be on hiatus for 2023 except for Dec. 2-3). He has sprinkled his calendar with a handful of arena, festival and stadium dates each year, but next year marks his biggest stadium commitment in nearly a decade.
Each year, Strait and Messina Group CEO Louis Messina, who has been promoting Strait’s concerts for around 30 years, and Messina Group senior vp Bridget Bauer talk about what’s next, Messina says. “There’s something about him and Chris together that’s magical. They love playing with each other,” Messina continues. “I said, ‘We should do something a little different than we’ve been doing.’ We’ve been doing one or two stadiums every year, but we said, ‘This is all we should do.’ Having him and Chris together and Little Big Town up there, it’s a pretty, pretty amazing show.”
The outing includes stops at stadiums in Seattle and Milwaukee, venues Strait hasn’t previously played, as well as cities where he hasn’t performed in a long time. Unlike his arena shows, which are often in the round, the stadium stage will be in the end zone with minimal but top-of-the-line production, befitting Strait’s low-key presence. “We’re not carrying pyro or lasers or sh– like that,” Messina says. “There’s no dancers. People are there to see George.” Strait had previously announced two shows at Ft. Worth, Texas’s Dickies Arena Nov. 18-19.
Stadium tickets will be available through an American Express pre-sale Oct. 26 and start at $59. The general public on-sale begins Nov. 4.
The ability to still sell out stadiums five decades into his career fills Strait, 70, with gratitude. “It’s amazing,” he says. “I’ve got the best fans in the world and I’m glad they still come out to hear us play. My whole career has been amazing as far as that goes. I’ve been blessed to be with a great record company, MCA, and although they don’t play me much anymore, country radio was really good to me for a lot of years and I really appreciate those years.”
And Strait has been great for country radio. With iconic songs like “Amarillo by Morning,” “The Chair,” “The Fireman” and “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” his 61 top 10s on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart are the most of any artist, as are his 100 total entries on the chart. On Hot Country Songs, his 44 No. 1s also set a record, as do his 86 top 10s.
With so many smashes, Strait’s shows are usually wall-to-wall hits, and while he tries to change the set list up, “there are certain songs that I feel we have to do – I don’t want anything thrown at me!” he jokes. “I’m kidding, of course, but I just know when I go to see a certain artist it’s usually because of certain songs. If I don’t hear them, I’m disappointed.”
Like many artists, Strait gained a new appreciation for performing live when he was unable to play concerts during the pandemic shutdown. “I never took being able to play music for granted, but I certainly didn’t expect something like the pandemic to happen,” he says. “I think we all were afraid we might never get to play in those arenas or stadiums again; that it would be too restricted. I love watching football on TV again now and seeing people sitting shoulder to shoulder in these huge stadiums. It happened faster than I expected.”
While many artists find it hard to build a connection with their fans in a huge stadium, Strait says he’s just the opposite, and incredibly, still gets butterflies before he hits the stage. “For me it’s very personal. I can feel every person out there. It’s a huge vibe. Huge,” he says. “I’m always very nervous days or even weeks before. The day of, I’m not very good to be around, I don’t think. It all goes away though as soon as I walk onstage.”
Strait has known Stapleton and Little Big Town for years. The lineup played a stadium show in Minneapolis in November 2021 (in a concert rescheduled from the pandemic) and in Kansas City this past July, but Strait says the dates were less of a test run for the 2023 stadium shows than they were simply playing with his friends: “They’re both super talented artists. I love working with both.”
During the Kansas City date, Stapleton’s wife, Morgane, asked the pair when they were going to do a duet together. “They go, ‘We’re going to figure something out,’” Messina says, though he adds, “George and Chris aren’t the most talkative people in the world when it comes to giving an answer. Though at least when you have Morgane pushing the envelope a little bit, that sure makes it easier instead of me asking. I know they love working with each other.”
On those dates, Stapleton joined Strait for a cover of Tom Petty’s “You Wreck Me” (a frequent selection on Strait’s setlist) and LBT harmonized with Strait on his hit “You Look So Good in Love.” Strait says while “there’s no guarantee that we’ll do songs together, [there’s] a high probability” that some crossover will occur. “If we do, we’ll pick something that works for both of us. Whether or not it’s ‘You Wreck Me’ or something else, you’ll just have to come and see,” he teases.
Strait’s last release was 2019’s Honky Tonk Time Machine, which was his 27th album to debut at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, the most of any artist. While he says he can’t promise that he’ll have new music by the time the first stadium date rolls around in May, “we could possibly have something new by then. It’s been a while for me and I’m definitely getting the itch.”
Though the first date isn’t until May, Strait is getting the itch to get back onstage as well, as he quotes his own lyrics from a 2011 song to describe his long love affair with his audience. “By the time showtime arrives every night, I’m usually tired of waiting and champing at the bit to go,” he says. “’When I walk through those curtains and see those smiling faces, my feet don’t touch the ground again till I walk back out and get on that bus that got me here’ — that’s from a song I wrote called ‘I’ll Always Remember You.’ It’s a true statement.”
Strait doesn’t rule out a similar run in 2024. “Whether or not we do it again the following year depends on how we all feel it went when we’re finished with these shows,” he says. “Chris and I haven’t talked about 2024 at this point.” Messina adds that a tour with shows 20 weekends in a row isn’t going to repeat, but a short outing could happen again. “It depends upon how he likes it or doesn’t like it,” he says. “The good thing about George Strait is we can do anything that he wants to do.”
George Strait 2023 tour dates:
May 6: Glendale, Arizona, State Farm Stadium
June 3: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, American Family Field
June 17: Seattle, Washington, Lumen Field
June 24: Denver, Colorado, Empower Field at Mile High
July 29: Nashville, Tennessee, Nissan Stadium
August 5: Tampa, Florida, Raymond James Stadium