George Strait returned to his Las Vegas residency at T-Mobile Arena on Friday and Saturday (Aug. 13-14). The pair of performances, which have recurred on a semi-regular basis since 2016, were the King of Country Music’s first at the venue since February of 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of the live entertainment business.

For a few hours each night, things had the appearance of normalcy. Most events in Vegas currently do not require a COVID vaccine or negative COVID test for entry, so the only major change from Strait’s last time in Vegas was strict enforcement of an indoor mask requirement. Most audience members throughout the weekend appeared to embrace the requirement — they were willing to do what was asked to bring live music back.

At 69 years old, Strait still knows how to give an audience exactly what they’re looking for, and his Strait to Vegas residency is a space that allows him to reach the most fans possible. Here are five things we realized while watching his return to T-Mobile Arena:

There are very few country artists who can perform two nights at the same venue with little setlist overlap.

Strait played a few of the same songs, but largely made it through a 25-30-song set each night without a lot of overlap. With more than 60 No. 1 singles during his 40-year career, his catalog is so deep that fans who traveled from around the country could have easily attended both shows and enjoyed two different experiences.

Strait closed both performances with “The Cowboy Rides Away” — but how could he not? It’s a perfect show closer.

Las Vegas allows an in-the round experience.

T-Mobile Arena isn’t overly large — with a capacity of 20,000, it’s much smaller than the football stadiums Strait has played in recent years when he’s away from the Strip — but with Strait’s in-the-round setup, there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Strait has microphones positioned on all four sides of the stage, and he spends 3-4 songs at each spot before rotating to a new area.

The setup is the easiest way to reach the most people possible — a hard thing to do when an artist has been the gold standard of his genre for four decades. Demand isn’t slowing down any time soon.

Strait knows how to pick a song ...

Strait isn’t much of a songwriter himself; rather, his gift is being able to recognize a hit. Beyond the 60 No. 1 singles Strait has to his name, his Vegas shows are a special peek into what he thinks of songs that he didn’t record. Strait hasn’t changed his selection of cover songs much over the years, but that speaks to how powerful he thinks the songs are.

Over two nights, Strait covered Tom Petty’s “You Wreck Me,” Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty,” Rodney Crowell’s “Stars on the Water” and Waylon Jennings’s “Waymore’s Blues (Part II).” He seemed to have the most fun wheeling out the cover versions on Saturday night.

… and he’s giving back.

Strait has spent most of his 40-year career keeping his private life private and staying away from any political commentary, but he isn’t afraid to openly support military heroes, nor is he afraid to openly support law enforcement officials. Through a partnership with Walmart, Wrangler and the Justin boot company, he provides one member of the armed forces financial assistance in each city that he stops. It doesn’t seem like something he wants to broadcast, as he steps away during the presentation — rather, it’s a public gesture more embraced by local sponsors — but Strait still shakes each hand that comes to the stage.

Will this residency last much longer?

To be sure, there are more dates on Strait’s calendar: He’ll return to the Southeast in November for a split weekend bill at Atlanta, Ga.’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium that features a night of country music — Eric Church will also play — and a night of rock music headlined by Metallica.

But something felt strange as Strait ended his set on Saturday night. He closed his regular set with “I’ll Always Remember You,” from 2011’s Here for a Good Time; “Troubadour,” from the record of the same name; and “Unwound,” his debut single. With “The Cowboy Rides Away” as his final encore song on his final night in Las Vegas for the summer, it really felt as though Strait knows something that we didn’t.

Strait has four more dates scheduled at T-Mobile Arena — two in December and two in February 2022 — and he’ll play the Austin City Limits Music Festival in October and Atlanta and Minneapolis, Minn., in November. Currently, though, a date at RodeoHouston in March of 2022 is the last event on his public calendar.

In other words, if you want the show, there’s no guarantee how much longer you have to catch it. Don’t let it slip away.

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