George Strait, Reba McEntire and Lee Ann Womack 

With combined album sales of more than 100 million, the reigning King and Queen of Country aimed to assert that time could be now Saturday night with its near-capacity show at Oklahoma City Arena. Being the top-selling country tour of 2010 — the second leg starting just a night before in Austin, Texas — and a stellar outing in Oklahoma City, it’s hard to argue.

Roughly 30,000 leather boots crossed the ticket barrier, all of whose owners packed the venue to witness a good ol’ dose of authentic country spirit from two of the genre’s biggest icons and surely couldn’t have been more pleased with the night, filled with big hits; surprise appearances; and pure, unadulterated country tunes.

The show began with special guest Lee Ann Womack — a relative slouch with a mere 6 million albums sold to her credit — who played a no-frills but solid 30-minute set of songs, dashing from vintage Western swing to her signature monster ballads. She warmed the crowd up with singles running the length of her career, none of which were received to quite the uproar that erupted as she dove into the opening chords of her crossover smash, “I Hope You Dance,” inspiring an arena-wide sing-along.

MAC ATTACK
But even that didn’t compare to the noise that erupted as the home-state girl, Reba McEntire, trounced the stage. The anticipation built with a video montage chronicling the full breadth of the singer/actress/author/clothing designer’s 35-year career (awesomely including a clip from the incomparable “Tremors”) before she comfortably and confidently strode to the diamond-shaped stage, dominating the arena for an hour and a half. The fiery redhead looked not a day over 30 (she’s 55) and championed the stage with the youth and vigor of a country upstart as she sashayed from corner to corner of the stage, gunning forward at full-speed the entire set.

Her natural charisma was hardly needed in winning over an already adoring crowd, but she flashed her quick grin anyway, bantering like she was having a one-on-one conversation with everyone in the room. Her obvious desire to be performing out in front of her fellow Okies only helped make her hits like “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” “Turn on the Radio” and her new single, “If I Were a Boy,” land that much harder.

As if she needed the help, the second half of her show brought about all sorts of tricks and surprises, including a vocal duet/duel with Womack (“Does He Love You”) and a surprise appearance by comedian Melissa Peterman, the goofball to McEntire’s straight man in her eponymous sitcom. Peterman had the crowd in stitches as she faux-drunkenly fawned over George Strait and McEntire’s backing band, acting as a hypeman à la Flava Flav as the duo busted out into the “Reba” theme song.

She returned to the stage via taxicab for an encore performance of “Fancy,” donning a fittingly fiery ruby-sequined dress and left the stage with the full intention of owning the night.

STRAIT UP
She probably did, not that George Strait is the type of guy to put up much of a fuss about it. There were no tricks up Strait’s starched and pressed sleeve, just a decidedly understated set that let the hits speak for themselves; when you have 57 #1 singles to your name (that’s a record, mind you), it doesn’t take much.

His nearly two-hour performance included a great number of them, including “The Chair,” “Ocean Front Property,” “Ace in the Hole” and “Check Yes or No,” along with two stellar covers (Merle Haggard’s “The Seashores of Old Mexico” and a steel-toed version of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”).

Strait performed a sort of square dance across that stage, moving like clockwork as he ran through two songs at each corner of the diamond, flashing his sincere smile at every turn. He bowed his stark black cowboy hat at the end of each mini-set, charming the wowing the crowd with nothing more than voice and song.

His impressive backing band — 11 members by my count — only bolstered the affair, with expert fiddle and steel guitar work. He took the time to introduce each one by name to uproarious applause at each mention.

But that hardly matched the deafening noise flaring up as he tore through “Amarillo by Morning”; his closing number, “The Cowboy Rides Away”; or any of his other selections, really. He held the entire audience captive from start to finish, and the whooping and hollering only took breaks for somber moments of Strait’s choosing.

He entertained both young and old, best evidenced by one fan who waved a homemade sign declaring the love of Strait by four generations of country music fans. The time is indeed now; maybe it never left.

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Joshua Boydston

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