Here For a Good Time

George Strait is one of the most popular, most respected and most influential recording artists in country music history. He is the Gary Cooper of country stars. Handsome, thin, a man of few words, and integrity oozing out of his being.
And Strait sells records — with more than 100 million going out worldwide. He has had 60 No. 1 hits, which include 13 multi-platinum, 33 platinum and 38 gold albums.
So when Strait announced his semi-retirement with his final Cowboy Rides Away Tour in 2014, it served as a sign that future concerts would be few and far between and for many fans, the only way to hear the sounds of “King George” would be via tribute artists.
Sure, he’s currently making a splash with his “Strait to Vegas” series of shows at T-Mobile Arena, and he’s having to add more shows. But those tickets are not available for long because they are selling like hotcakes. He’s earned the title “The Fireman” (like the name of his song), in this case.
Enter John Eric and “The Troubadour Experience.” When Eric debuted that show in Laughlin at the Riverside Resort over three years ago, it was a huge success. What Eric did was elevate a smaller bar gig he had been performing in the Phoenix area into a full-blown production show suitable for main showroom status.
“The show went over very well each time we were here,” he told us in a phone interview when he was last in town. “We were apparently one of the most attended tributes at the Riverside, from what we were told.”
According to Eric, many of those who came up to him after the shows at the meet-and-greet sessions told him he was a dead ringer for Strait in both visual and vocal realms.
“I also received numerous comments of praise on the musicianship and attention to detail of the band,” said Eric. “We got comments like ‘fabulous,’ ‘awesome,’ ‘incredible,’ ‘shockingly good,’ ‘I’m coming again tomorrow night,’ ‘spot on,’ ‘best tribute I’ve ever seen,’ and ‘wow, just wow!’ ”
So it sounds like Eric was correct in pursuing a career in the tribute business.
“I’ve been playing live music in bars and casinos all around Arizona for 19 years,” he said. “I resemble George and I sound like him so I kept getting people requesting we sing George Strait songs. So with him retiring, we got to thinking, ‘what about a tribute?’ The band and I got to kicking the idea around, hired fiddle and steel guitar players, started rehearsing — and it’s been taking off.
“While we’re fairly new to the tribute business, everybody in the band is very seasoned. We’re no strangers to being on stage. We’ve opened for guys like The Gatlin Brothers, Tracy Lawrence, Tracy Byrd, Pat Green, Gary Allen, The Bellamy Brothers, Chris LeDoux, Mark Wills and more.”
According to Eric, the six-piece band backing his lead has the music part covered. Everything is live and nothing is on tracks. Almost as important as the musicianship is the passion for the music.
“George Strait is absolutely my all-time favorite, hands down,” Eric said. “We were always steering toward doing his material anyway, so putting this show together was an easy decision.”
The most challenging part?
“Finding the right players,” he said. “I think what makes this show different is how accurate we are at paying attention to detail on every song. People tell me all the time that I have George Strait’s same mannerisms, appearance and gestures.”
Portraying “King George” might come easy when certain things are already built in, like looks and sound, but with an extensive catalog of music, how does one narrow down 35 years of music into a 90-minute show?
“The songs in the show are probably more based on my favorites and the ones I can mimic the best,” he said. “My favorite is ‘The Fireman.’ ” Of course, the crowd favorite has to be “Cowboy Rides Away.”
“For sure it’s that one and probably ‘I Cross My Heart,'” said Eric. “‘All My Exes’ always gets a big reaction, too.
For his last appearance at the Riverside, he added “Marina Del Rey” and “I Can Still Make Cheyenne” to the set.
Current band members include Josh Blixt (lead guitar), Patrick Clark (fiddle and vocals), Mike G. Smith (pedal steel guitar), Eric Gilboe (bass) and Robert Scott (drums).
In an industry often dominated by technology and gimmicks, The Troubadour Experience show sticks to the purest way, the George Strait way of delivering the music fans know inside out.
The show includes performances of hits such as “Fool Hearted Memory,” “All My Exes Live In Texas,” “Ocean Front Property,” “The Chair,” “Here For A Good Time,” and more.
So if you like country music served up traditional style, this particular singing cowboy isn’t quite ready to ride away just yet.


THE TROUBADOUR EXPERIENCE

Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside

Wednesday-Sunday, Feb. 20-24 ( 7 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info