LAS VEGAS (AP) -- George Strait couldn't help feeling a little like he was being led out to pasture when the Academy of Country Music saluted him as their Artist of the Decade with an all-star concert.
"It's almost like this was a farewell deal, but I ain't ready to go yet," the soft-spoken Texan told the audience Monday.
And then, perhaps to prove the point, the 56-year-old superstar closed the show by leading a sing-along of his hit "Troubadour," with its chorus, "I was a young troubadour when I rode in on a song, and I'll be an old troubadour when I'm gone."
With the honor, joins the ACM's four other artists of the decade: Marty Robbins in the 1960s, Loretta Lynn in the '70s, Alabama in the '80s and Garth Brooks in the '90s.
As the reining Artist of the Decade, Brooks presented the award. He said it was ironic handing the award to the person largely responsible for him having it, and told a story about hearing Strait's first hit, "Unwound," in 1981.
"From that very second I knew what I wanted to be. It was so easy and it didn't seem that far away. I wanted to be George Strait," Brooks recalled.
Later, Brooks said the secret of Strait's longevity he's had 57 No. 1 country singles, more than anyone else, and he's still going strong is that he doesn't pretend to be something he's not.
"He never has to act ... he's just being him," Brooks said.
Most of the evening, Strait, wearing a dark jacket and cowboy hat, sat with his family in the MGM Grand Garden Arena as a parade of performers including Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, Taylor Swift, Jamie Foxx, Sugarland, Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert, John Rich and more spoke about the famously taciturn star's music and kindness, and then sang his songs.
"When I was 16 I went on my first tour, as opening act for George Strait," began 19-year-old Swift, who sang Strait's ballad "Run." "I'd never been on big stage before or sung in an arena. I asked him if he had advice about performing in the round.
He said, 'Yes, I do,'" Swift said, then paused a good while. "I sensed that I needed to ask a follow-up question. So I said 'How do you do that?' He said, 'Just do it for 25 years and it will feel real natural.'"
Eddie Montgomery of the duo Montgomery Gentry said that when he was playing clubs in Kentucky, "everytime we'd go to work, the first thing the club owner would ask is, 'Do you know any George Strait?' And if you didn't, you didn't get the gig."
The four other artists of the decade were also briefly saluted. Keith Urban did a medley of Robbins' songs, Faith Hill performed Lynn's "You Ain't Woman Enough," Montgomery Gentry did Alabama's "Mountain Music" and Martina McBride sang Brooks' "The Dance."
But it was clearly Strait's night.
Jamey Johnson and Lee Ann Womack sang "Give It Away," a song Johnson wrote and Strait took up the charts. After they finished, Johnson walked over and handed Strait his guitar to autograph.
"I just never been in a situation where I had the guitar and George at the same place at the same time," Johnson explained afterward, still clutching the instrument.
Keith, who sang "Unwound," quipped: "The bad news is that because he's been so successful he has to sit here and listen to us butcher all of his songs."
True to form, Strait kept his remarks brief, mostly thanking everyone and complimenting them on their performances. He joked with Foxx, who gave "You Look So Good in Love" and R&B flavor.
"Jamie, I'm going to have to rethink the way I sing 'You Look So Good in Love' now," he said.
But mostly Strait looked humbled. At the end, he performed a few of his own songs and gathered everyone on stage with him to sing "Troubadour."
"I've played in here quite a few times, and I've never been this nervous," he said.
The program was taped the day after the ACM Awards for a special to air May 27 on CBS.
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