- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2001

NASHVILLE, Tenn. —George Straits latest tour of stadiums is the hottest ticket of the year for country-music fans. Performers, too.
Singers who hit the road with Mr. Strait tend to sell records. Eight of the 10 best-selling country-music acts of 2000 have been featured on one of his festival tours, and every singer in Nashville wants a piece of that action.
This year, country superstar Alan Jackson, a longtime headliner, will be on the bill.
"Theyre doing really big numbers, " he explains.
The fourth annual festival began recently in Tampa, Fla., with stops in Miami, Phoenix and Las Vegas. Other stops include New Orleans, Atlanta, St. Louis and Louisville, Ky., before the tour ends in Dallas June 10.
Mr. Jackson says he doesnt mind playing second fiddle to Mr. Strait for the tours 16 dates.
"Oh yeah, thats Georges show," he says. "I wouldnt even think about putting myself up there next to him."
Asleep at the Wheel, Brad Paisley, Lee Ann Womack and Lonestar also will perform.
The tour was born from an annual stadium show that Mr. Strait began in San Antonio eight years ago. Starting a large, daylong country-music tour as the popularity of the genre was on the downslide from its peak in the early 1990s seemed like a big risk.
Since 1998, Mr. Straits stadium tours have grossed $86 million, about 19 percent of the $452 million grossed by the entire country-music touring industry, according to Amusement Business magazine.
"I think people have become more selective of what they go see," says Louis Messina of SFX Music Group, promoter of the Strait tour.
"Instead of four or five shows a year, theyre going to see one or two," Mr. Messina says. "So heres a 10-hour concert packed with the hottest stars going. Our plan is its the one show they have to see."
Joe Galante, who runs RCA Records in Nashville, says he witnessed the commercial power of the Strait tour through RCA act Kenny Chesney.
"The fact that Kenny Chesney was on the last two George Strait tours was a big part of his album debuting at No. 1 on the country charts," Mr. Galante says. "The festivals fans are active buyers. They remember when someone does a great job onstage and has great music, and at some point, they go buy it."
Mr. Chesney says his two Strait tours were "priceless."
"You cant put a dollar amount on it," he says. "The relationships you make with the people there, the things that you learn from everybody are just unbelievable. Theres something to be learned from people who have had careers like George Strait has."
Emily Robison of the Dixie Chicks says the 1999 tour helped her group launch its first headlining tour the following year.
"We wanted to build our fan base before launching our own tour, and by performing in stadiums packed with country-music lovers, we did just that," Miss Robison says.
Mr. Strait and Mr. Jackson plan to duet on their popular song "Murder on Music Row."
"Its a chance for me to go into those markets with George and do something a little different," Mr. Jackson says.
Mr. Strait, 48, has sold more than 53 million albums, with consistent sales over two decades.
He had his first hit, "Unwound," in 1981, back when it was a big deal for a country singer to earn a gold record (for sales of 500,000). He has weathered numerous trends and competition, ranging from the rise of one-time Strait emulator Garth Brooks to the pop country of Shania Twain.
Imitators to the Strait tour have cropped up as other singers realized they needed to offer more to stay competitive.
Brooks & Dunn are headlining the Neon Circus and Wild West Show, which is also being promoted by SFX in 40 cities. On that bill are Toby Keith, Montgomery Gentry and Keith Urban.
Reba McEntire plans to headline an all-female show featuring Martina McBride and three other women.
Strait tour veteransMr. Chesney and Tim McGraw, both veterans of Strait tours, are expected to team up with a third act for a tour.
Other package tours include the annual Charlie Daniels Volunteer Jam, with the Dicky Betts Band and. 38 Special; the Honky Tonk Tailgate Party, with Rhett Atkins, Daryle Singletary and Jeff Carson; and Berry, Bogguss and Dean, with John Berry, Suzy Bogguss and Billy Dean.
"A lot of people are holding on to their money right now," Mr. Messina says. "When people read in the newspaper that a recession may be coming and unemployment is going up, those leisure dollars may not get spent.
"But the secret is no secret: Sell something of quality thats a good value, and people will buy it."

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