ARLINGTON, Texas (AP)—George Strait and Reba McEntire are two of the biggest names in country music. Yet in their first gig together “since we were opening shows for Conway Twitty many many moons ago,” they still played second fiddle to the real star of the show: the venue, the $1.15 billion Cowboys Stadium.
“Whoo! I am so honored to be here, I can’t even tell you how much,” Strait told a crowd of 60,188. “I mean, I can say I’ve done a lot of things in my career and had a lot of fun. This is right up there at the top of anything I’ve ever done before because I’m such a big Dallas Cowboys fan. …
“What a night.”
It was special enough that former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson came—and sat right next to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
While the friends-turned-adversaries have patched up their differences, they rarely pal around. When they were shown on TV screens during the intermission between McEntire and Strait, it took about 30 seconds for people to notice and realize what they were seeing. Once it clicked, cheers followed.
The biggest cheers, though, came about a half-hour into Strait’s act.
“I just remembered something,” he said. “Isn’t this roof supposed to open? We want it open, don’t we?”
He then asked the crowd to chant, “Jerry, open the roof!” With thousands of camera flashes going off, the retractable roof peeled back for the first time as Strait played, “(If It Wasn’t For) Texas.” He got in two more songs by the time the 12-minute retraction was finished.
It’s not a complete open-air top. In fact, it evokes the same “hole in the roof” feeling of Texas Stadium, the team’s previous home.
This was the first official event at a building so spectacular that it’s already lured a Super Bowl, a Final Four, the NBA All-Star game and other major sports and entertainment events—in addition, of course, to its main tenant, the Cowboys.
One step inside and it’s easy to see why so many events want to be held here, and why the price nearly doubled the initial projection of $650 million.
The most stunning feature is the center-hung, overhead video board. It’s the world largest high-definition TV screen and there are actually two, one for each side, plus smaller boards on the ends. There’s also the retractable roof and ground-to-ceiling glass doors behind both end zones that open and shut almost like sliding patio doors.
The wide, polished main concourse feels more like a fancy club than a stadium, with gleaming floors and fancy glass. Some of the bars had the ambiance of a night club.
There were long lines for souvenirs, food and drink, despite prices such as $30 T-shirts, $13 barbecue Kobe beef burgers and $5 bottles of water. (That explains the next-longest lines: the ATM machines.)
The stadium is located next to the Texas Rangers’ home field. Arlington taxpayers paid $325 million and Jones picked up the rest of the tab. For football, it can hold up to 100,000.
Julianne Hough was supposed to have the opening-act honors, but she was sick. Lee Ann Womack took her place.
Blake Shelton was next, and he walked on stage holding up a can of beer.
“We’re the luckiest people in the United States of America,” Shelton said. “We get to watch the king and queen of country music in this place tonight. And it just so happens to be in the grand opening of the new Cowboys Stadium.
“I’ll drink to that.”
Jones wanted a big-time headliner and Strait certainly fit the bill; only Elvis Presley and The Beatles have sold more albums, and neither of them were available. McEntire was billed as a “special guest,” and she’s special to the Jones family because she was the first performer in their now annual Thanksgiving halftime concert benefiting the Salvation Army.
There were a few glitches, such as the first words of the first show: “Welcome to Texas Stadium!” Oops. Until corporate sponsorship is found, this place is going by “Cowboys Stadium.”
Not surprisingly, there were complaints about traffic and parking. Even Shelton got into the griping.
“Mr. Jones spared no expense building this place,” Shelton told the crowd. “It looks like he thought about just about everything—except one thing. I don’t know if y’all realize this or not, traffic coming into this thing (was difficult). I guess that’s just how it’s going to be. I didn’t know if we were going to make it here on time or not.”