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Strait Fest: country moniker fits

Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas, Nev., March 31, 2001

By Dan MacIntosh

LAS VEGAS - In this instance, the "country" in the George Strait Country Music Festival was truly fitting, since Strait's touring partners are some of the most tradition-conscious artists on the country charts today. It served as proof positive that performers can remain proud of their roots and still sell a few albums.

Granted, it was a treat to see Alan Jackson duet live with Strait on "Murder on Music Row" - which bemoans the sorry state of contemporary country music - during Strait's closing set. But the satisfying eight hours of quality music that preceded it suggests that good country music is not quite dead yet, to paraphrase a line from "Monty Python and The Holy Grail."

Strait once again played the modest host for this party by keeping his focus on the music. He skillfully mixed new material, such as "Don't Make Me Come Over There and Love You" and "Write This Down" with older material, like "Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind."

Jackson, who preceded Strait, received wild applause as he took the stage. Strangely, this meat-and-potatoes back-to-basics singer was introduced with an overly hyped video montage featuring everyone from Oprah to Jay Leno singing Jackson's praises. For a man who believes in letting the music speak for itself, such a glitzy tactic was clearly unfitting.

Nevertheless, his fine music still spoke volumes. From the opener "Gone Country," to his closing snippet of the appropriate "Viva! Las Vegas," Jackson sang all the hits and proved just why he's worth the hype.

Lonestar was by far the least critically acclaimed act on this bill, but although they rely too much on bland love songs, they still put on a charming little show. In addition to the predictable inclusions of the hits "Amazed" and "What About Now," they also tried out a few new songs, such as "When You're With Me" and the quirky "She's Unusually Unusual."

Lee Ann Womack's turn was highlighted by her eclectic song selection. Her version of the blues standard "I Just Want To Make Love To You" had the male contingency in the audience ready to volunteer, and her fiddle and mandolin-driven take on Buddy and Julie Miller's "Does My Ring Burn Your Finger" packed a powerful emotional punch. She even sweetly dedicated her breakthrough hit of "I Hope You Dance" to a newlywed in the audience.

Although Brad Paisley was near to the bottom of the bill, he certainly rose to occasion - especially with his nonchalantly amazing guitar playing and emotionally moving songs. His new song about the joyful fruits of love called "Because Two People Fell In Love," suggests that there may be plenty of other heart-tuggers where "He Didn't Have To Be" came from.

Sara Evans may have been born to fly, but with only a 30-minute set, she hardly had time to get airborne. Yet she still packed quite a punch into her short stay with thoughtful tunes like "Saints and Angels" and "I Keep Looking."

Asleep At The Wheel was stuck being the back-up music for late arrivals, but for those who listened closely, these Texans easily proved why they are the current kings of western swing. With such winners as "Route 66" and "Hot Rod Lincoln," Ray Benson and friends got this festival off to a toe-tapping start.

In addition to the acts on the main stage, The Warren Brothers and BR5-49 also performed to smaller gatherings throughout the day on the Jack Daniels Lynchburg Live Stage.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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