George Strait keeps crossing Fort Worth minds.
After two sold-out concerts at Dickies Arena last fall, the King of Country returns to the Cultural District for another set of shows Nov. 17-18.
But before Strait had 60 No. 1 singles or 33 platinum or multiplatinum albums, the singer-songwriter and rodeo roper had several milestones in the city.
In the early ’80s, Strait and his band were the opening act for a run of shows at Billy Bob’s Texas. “Pure Country” fans will also recognize the Cowtown Coliseum in the 1992 film where Strait landed the lead role of Dusty Wyatt Chandler. And, of course, locals have been singing “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind” ever since the single and album hit the scene in 1984.
Pam Minick was the first woman to announce the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and in the early ’80s, she and Strait co-hosted a TV program centered around the event.
But it was his debut concert at the event — which happened by chance — that won the country crooner an arena full of fans.
In 1983, Eddie Rabbitt was set to headline the stock show and rodeo, but when the country singer got sick, Strait was called to fill in.
Without rehearsals or a soundcheck, Strait’s performance was considered a runaway success. To this day, people still recall how he finished the set, hopped on a horse and threw his hat into the stands.
“That was truly the big launch of his career,” Minick said.
The performance supercharged Strait’s upward trajectory.
Minick’s husband, Billy, told her stories about Strait’s early shows at Billy Bob’s Fort Worth, where the musician arrived in a dually pickup towing a U-Haul trailer for the band’s gear.
“The fact that, 40 years later, he’s such a down to earth, real cowboy has not changed,” Pam Minick said. “And that’s the greatest compliment I think you can give somebody that’s achieved that (level of) notoriety and success — that his core values and the fact that he’s really a cowboy at heart has never changed.”
A bond between friends
The Texas troubadour’s straight ahead style and sincerity is also a draw for fan Sherry Griggs.
Griggs has been a fan of George Strait since high school and can still remember the first time she heard about the artist.
“I was walking through the living room one time … and my mom was watching ‘Hee Haw,’ and I remember asking her, ‘Who’s that?’ She was like, ‘Some cute, little guy named George Strait,’” Griggs recalled.
Strait became the soundtrack of Griggs’ high school years, when she’d cruise around the countryside on her own or with friends.
“I had a rule in that car that if there is a George Strait song on, don’t you dare touch that radio,” she said, “because if you do, I’ll kick you out.”
She still has the same ’65 Mustang convertible and the collection of George Strait tapes for its cassette player. Listening to those older albums transports her back in time.
“‘River of Love’ can immediately put me in a good mood,” she said.
Strait’s music is just one thing that Griggs and friend, Cynthia Wahl, have bonded over. Sitting together at Wahl’s house, the pair looked through their George Strait albums and memorabilia.
Griggs dug out an old oversized concert T-shirt with a black-and-white image of Strait printed on the front, and Wahl found a piece of mail from the George Strait fan club postmarked Jan. 31, 1987, sent for the group’s second annual membership drive. But Griggs was disappointed that she has misplaced her beloved “Strait jacket” with the singer’s name.
“We will message each other back and forth, just a little picture or clip or whatever. No words needed,” Griggs said. “And I know she’s going to get it.”
Strait has been a through line in Wahl’s life as well. She has attended his concerts in Colorado, Texas and New Mexico and has interviewed him for two different publications.
“He’s an authentic cowboy. I mean, he ropes and rides,” she said. “It’s authentic and a little bit traditionalist. … He’s the real thing as far as Texas goes.”
A friend of Wahl’s from Seattle had Strait’s “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind” album and eventually ended up working at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. When another job opened up, that friend recommended Wahl for the job. She moved to North Texas as well.
“This is George Strait luring me with ‘Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind,’” she joked.
The next generation
For Bubba Bellin, it’s hard to overstate the influence of George Strait on his life. The singer-songwriter and pedal steel guitar player would listen to the King of Country on repeat as a child and inherited a vinyl collection of Strait albums from his dad.
Bellin will perform before Strait’s show at 6 p.m. on Nov. 18 at Simmons Bank Plaza in front of Dickies Arena. Fellow Fort Worth musician David Tribble will perform in the same spot on Nov. 17, as part of a local music showcase.
“For a former school teacher who taught middle school and coached football and (has been), for several years now, a full-time musician, hanging out outside of a George Strait concert (playing) — it’s pretty wild,” Tribble said. “And I’m very grateful.”
Likewise, Bellin is thankful for the opportunity to perform before Strait’s show.
“The influence of his music on my style is huge … and his impact on Fort Worth is just as massive,” he said.
Strait is someone Bellin looks up to and hopes to emulate.
“I sure would like one day to be able to play a show where I have to cut how many number one hits I have to play … (because) I can’t fit all my number ones in 90 minutes.”
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.