The capacity crowd that greeted George Strait and his Ace in the Hole Band at Wolf Trap Saturday night was dotted with white Stetsons and bellowing Texans. If someone wasn't blocking your view, chances are good someone was screaming in your ear.
Not that many folks were in the mood to complain. True to form, Strait sported one of the hats himself while he and the band moved with old-fashioned flair through a choice selection of honky-tonk ballads, country waltzes and Western swing tunes. The band's fiddle and pedal steel guitar tributes to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys on "Milkcow Blues" and "San Antoine Rose," along with an unusually brisk and colorful arrangement of "Folsom Prison Blues," were hard to beat, not only as crowd pleasers but as examples of how Strait and his band have managed to revive Western swing with a handsome cowboy croon and a sparkling instrumental weave. However, the ballads, especially the melancholy elbow benders, ranked a close second and were responsible for most of the evening's emotional highlights.
The opening set by Patty Loveless, on the other hand, fell short of her club performances in town in recent years. Although she was at her heartbroken best in "Don't Toss Us Away" and surrounded by a top-notch neo-traditionalist band, several ballads were strictly mediocre. Overall, her show seemed far more predictable and restrained than in the past.