Wichita will show up for country music legend George Strait anytime he wants to come to town.
A sold-out crowd showed up when the arena was still brand new in January of 2010 and all came back two years later for another sold-out concert in February 2012.
And on Friday, a sold-out crowd of 14,600 turned out to see Strait, possibly for the last time, for his The Cowboy Rides Away Tour, which the country megastar has said will be his last before he retires.
The show, which also featured a brief opening act performance by a visibly ill Merle Haggard and country star Lee Ann Womack, was a two-and-a-half tour of Straits top hits, including many he hadnt offered on previous stops.
The show as always was set up in-the-round, with a stage in the center of the arena floor and the audience seated on all four sides. The arrangement offers a rare glimpse at the arena at its full capacity, with every seat filled.
With his nine-piece Ace in the Hole band scattered about the stage, all facing different directions, and four microphones facing each side of the stage, Strait would sing two songs then mosey over to the microphone to his left, giving fans seated on the north, south, east and west sides of the arena equal face time.
The south fans got him first. Strait, dressed in a crisp blue button up tucked into Wranglers and his signature black cowboy hat, opened the show with The Fireman, followed by Check Yes or No.
He paused when he traveled to face north, caught off-guard by a hand-printed poster-size sign being waved by a fan in the front row. Im going to be a vet in five weeks, Strait read out loud. Can I preg-test your cows?
Strait paused and laughed. Then laughed again.
Ive seen a lot of signs he said, but that ... he said. You want to pregnant test my cows? Sure.
As he attempted to introduce the next song, Marina Del Rey, he stopped and laughed again.
The concert continued with songs spanning his 33-year career, and the crowd seemed particularly appreciative of I Can Still Make Cheyenne, Ocean Front Property, Nobody in his Right Mind and Amarillo By Morning.
Strait performed an emotional tribute to the victims of the Newtown, Conn., school shootings called I Believe, one of his newer songs from his most recent album Love Is Everything. When he sang his current hit, I Got a Car, he told the audience hed be performing it on Sunday nights Academy of Country Music Awards.
Haggard had canceled a Thursday-night concert in Tulsa, posting on his Twitter account that he was not able to sing tonight due to pneumonia. ... Hopefully be able to sing tomorrow night in Wichita.
He did sing in Wichita the best he could. The 76-year-old performer took the stage looking tired and ill and he battled through nearly 30 minutes onstage. He was hoarse and struggled through Big City, I Think Ill Just Stay Here and Drink and Okie from Muskogee, his fans singing loudly along as though trying to help him.
Haggard perked up as he continued to sing, stopping to blow his nose and cough every now and then. As he left the stage to loud applause, he said, Well, I was just the warm-up act. Now youre going to have some real entertainment.
After he left the stage on Friday, Haggards Twitter account was updated with a tweet that overestimated the crowd but not its appreciation.
With the support of 17,000 voices tonight and my Lord Jesus Christ we kicked laryngitis and pneumonias ass! Thank you Wichita!
Strait acknowledged Haggard during his performance, too.
I know Merle wasnt feeling well tonight, Strait said. But just seeing the man is pretty great, isnt it?