George Strait brought his The Cowboy Rides Away Tour to Verizon Arena in North Little Rock on April 12. Along for the party came Martina McBride. Central Arkansas fans of country music had to have exited the arena with a smile on their faces as both popular performers delivered an evening of hits and memorable performances.

Strait, who has garnered more number one country singles than any other artist, took the audience on a musical journey with a healthy dose of songs from his career. His song selection covered such favorites as "Check Yes or No," "I Saw God Today," "Milk Cow Blues" and "Give It Away." In addition, fans of his early days screamed as he ran through such hits as "Ocean Front Property," "Marina Del Rey," "A Fire I Can’t Put Out" and "The Chair."

With the diamond-shaped stage in the center of the arena, Strait was able to wander from corner to corner, giving most of the crowd a fairly up-close view. His multi-talented backing group, The Ace in the Hole Band, provided some key moments as well. Guitarists Rick McRae, Benny McArthur and Joe Manuel were stellar. Thom Flora and Marty Slayton provided fine harmony vocals. Also, the fiddle work by Gene Elders on the introduction and close of "Amarillo by Morning" is worth the price of admission alone.

After closing his 27-song set with "Unwound," Strait returned for a three-song encore, highlighted by "All My Ex’s Live in Texas" and "The Cowboy Rides Away." Before exiting, the Country Music Hall of Famer circled the stage, waving and smiling to crowd of more than 17,000.

McBride delivered a sassy, 16-song set. She hit the stage with "When God Fearin’ Women Get the Blues." From there, she performed such hits as "Wild Angels," "Blessed," "This One’s for the Girls," "I Love You," and "A Broken Wing."

McBride closed with her signature hit "Independence Day." To a thunderous applause she left the stage. She is a four-time winner of Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year award and was in top form for this Arkansas appearance.

In all, fans were greeted to an evening of great music. And just think – both performers are over 40 years old. So, who says you have to be 20-something and look like a punk rocker to achieve success in today’s country music? This concert was the real deal.

Beebe writer Charles Haymes is a member of the Country Music Association and the International Bluegrass Music Association. Email him at