Strait headlines Bayou Country Superfest Friday _lowres

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Country music recording artist George Strait, on the final leg of his 'Cowboy Rides Away Tour,' performs during Bayou Country Superfest on Friday at LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge.

Bayou Country Superfest opened the first Friday in its five-year history on a classic country note.

George Strait, the 62-year-old Texas singer known as the king of country, headlined Superfest at LSU’s Tiger Stadium on a bill that included a lady who can make a strong claim to being the queen of country, Reba McEntire.

It’s no coincidence that MCA Records released albums by both Strait and McEntire featuring “50” in their titles, as in 50 number ones and 50 biggest hits.

Friday very likely was the best-attended day the festival has ever had. Even if every seat wasn’t filled, it sure looked like it.

No disrespect to the enormously talented McEntire, but credit for the big turnout goes to Strait. His Superfest appearance is special for all kinds of reasons.

Of course, Strait has a huge catalog of hits, part of his more than 30 years of recordings. He played a bunch of those beloved songs on the huge stage Superfest installed in the north end of Tiger Stadium.

Strait walked on stage at 8:50 p.m., greeted by a Tiger Stadium roar that at least rivaled cheers heard during football games. The cheers continued throughout the show nearly every song being triumphantly received.

Strait and his large band opened with one of his many classics, the wry, lively “The Fireman.” His happy courting song, “Check Yes or No,” followed, inspiring the first of many sing-alongs.

“It’s great to be here tonight,” Strait said between the second and third song in his show. “What a place,” he said as he looked out at the packed-solid stadium. “We got a lot of songs to play for you.”

Wearing a black cowboy hat, blue jeans and a simple striped shirt, and strumming a black acoustic guitar, Strait proved the most unpretentious of stars. That’s part of his charm. He’s an everyman whose songs can speak for just about everyone.

Not everyone, of course, can sing songs with such feeling and communicate that emotion to a full stadium. However many times Strait has sung his torch songs “A Fire I Can’t Put Out” and “You Look So Good In Love,” he clearly felt them both so intensely when he sang them Friday night.

Chances are many of Strait’s fellow Texans were in the audience Friday. Whenever Texas, or a city in Texas, was mentioned, cheers rose up. And you bet there was hearty sing-along, if not a religious experience, during “Amarillo by Morning.”

The significance of Strait’s Superfest stand rested, too, on the fact that he’s reaching his end of his farewell “Cowboy Rides Away Tour.” Baton Rouge is the third to last show on the two-year trek, which wraps up June 7 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. That star-loaded finale includes Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert and two of Sunday’s Superfest performances, Jason Aldean and Eric Church.

Preceding Strait, McEntire brought plenty of her own star power. She sang many of her dozens of hits during her during her hour and 45 minutes on the Superfest stage. She also showed her versatility, performing deeply personal ballads such as “Whoever’s In New England” and “Somebody Should Leave”; her empowerment-ballad duet with Kelly Clarkson, “Because of You”; some Western swing; and the crowd-rousing “Why Haven’t I Heard from You.”

As McEntire waved to fans, she talked to the crowd like she was in a friend’s living room and smiled even when she sang lyrics expressing a woman’s pain. The stage looked like her second home. In an effective bit of programming, she segued from the poignant “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” into the uplifting “Walk On.”

Unlike her shows of the ’80s and ’90s, McEntire’s Superfest performance was not a big production filled with costume changes and special effects. But she and her band got by great on music and talent alone.

McEntire saved her first and only costume change of the night for her encore. She returned to the stage in a sparkling red dress and matching high heels for “Fancy,” her Southern tale about a poor girl who makes good. No surprise that the crowd loved it.

Opening act Chris Young kick-started Superfest V five minutes early, taking the stage at 5:55 p.m.

“We ain’t gonna be up here too long, but we’re going to make the most out of every minute,” Young said.

A Nashville-area native who has lots of twang in his voice, Young performed good-time country songs “Voices” and “I Can Take It from There,” poured the sincerity on with his romantic country power-ballad “Who I Am With You” and the mid-tempo, feel-good song “You” and, most of all, the worthy-of-swaying to “Tomorrow.”

Young also made the country-rock connection with his rendition of ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man.” The Texas trio’s influences showed again later with Young’s own party song, “Aw Naw.”

Superfest continues through Sunday at Tiger Stadium.