George Strait focus of concert special

They wanted to give George Strait a big award on a network-TV special, but decided they ought to check with him first.

In a music industry driven by promotion, Strait is the rare superstar who seldom calls attention to himself. Academy of Country Music president Bob Romeo says before they moved ahead with plans to give Strait the Artist of the Decade award, he and the producers determined "we better go see how George feels about it."

To their relief, Strait was honored and willing to be the focus of the concert special taping Monday, to air May 27 on CBS. He is the fifth to receive the award — after Marty Robbins, Loretta Lynn, Alabama and Garth Brooks — but the first to see it in this format, with a separate concert and special.

The Texas-based star will be on hand to see his hits covered by most of Nashville’s A-list: Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, Sugarland, Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Alan Jackson, Jamey Johnson, Miranda Lambert and Lee Ann Womack among them.

"So many of them have been his big fans, have traveled, have toured with him. And they all idolize him," says Orly Adelson, president of Dick Clark Productions, which is producing for CBS. And while it’s not a "duets" format, she hints that Strait won’t just sit passively and watch the whole time.

Today’s hit-makers also might be in awe of Strait’s "Benjamin Button"-like defiance of the youth-driven industry. When he was 33, the former cattle rancher played to 3,200 people in the old convention center in his first Las Vegas show covered by the Review-Journal in 1985.

At 56, he draws four times as many people each year at the MGM Grand Garden. On Sunday, he is vying for the Academy’s Entertainer of the Year top honor alongside Carrie Underwood, who is 30 years his junior. He also is nominated for Top Male Vocalist, Album of the Year ("Troubador"), Song of the Year ("I Saw God Today") and Video of the Year ("Troubador").

Strait is a man of few interviews. He does just fine without them, but there also is a well-circulated story that he slammed the door to the press after a reporter’s insensitivity to his 13-year-old daughter’s death in a 1986 auto accident.

He remains a man of his word; Romeo said the whole tribute and TV special was done on a handshake. Strait’s business career is much like the remarkable consistency of his music, which is anchored in singing-cowboy tradition and Western swing, oblivious to Nashville fads and trends.

The Academy president, who previously booked acts for state fairs, says he recently unearthed an old contract with Strait from the 1980s. "That contract is no different than his contract today," Romeo marvels. "It’s the same manager, the same booking agent. Same concession people, same road manager. You look at that in a world where things change so much. … What a testament to this guy.

"The people he started this journey with, for the most part are all still with him today. That’s got to say something about the man."

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ or 702-383-0288.

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