For a couple of hours on Saturday, Nov. 13, one of the most consistently successful musicians of any genre held a sold-out crowd in the palm of his hand — or, rather, in the back pocket of his boot-cut Wranglers. 

The kicker: the Texas icon did so way up in the north country.

George Strait played Minneapolis for the first time in more than eight years, and the pent-up demand was clear. Some 51,030 people showed up, the largest crowd ever for a U.S. Bank Stadium concert after Garth Brooks, whose pair of 2019 shows drew a combined attendance of more than 140,000. (Brooks, however, played on an in-the-round stage, allowing him to sell seats around the entire bowl.)

Strait, 69, announced he was retiring from full-scale touring back in 2013 but noted he’d still perform live and release new music, just at a slower pace. He’s lived up to that promise and typically plays a handful of Vegas gigs and a few massive one-off shows each year.

The schedule seems to be agreeing with him, as he was in top form Saturday night, tackling more than 30 songs backed by his crackerjack 11-piece Ace in the Hole Band. To be sure, Strait isn’t really a showman, at least not in the sense of Brooks or the Rolling Stones, who played the venue last month.

As usual, Strait didn’t really talk much to the audience. Early on, he noted “It’s cold up here — damn.” Later, he gave a shout-out to former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Tommy Kramer, who was in the crowd. Strait also didn’t offer much in the way of theatrics beyond standing there and singing. One can imagine if Brooks or the Stones had done the same, concertgoers would have demanded refunds.

So what’s the guy’s appeal? His songs. For three decades, Strait maintained a constant presence on country radio, scoring more than 80 Top 10 hits, more than half of which went all the way to No. 1. And judging by the crowd, plenty of people still love all those songs, which largely avoided trends and gimmicks of the day and still sound just as straightforward and honest now as they did then.

While longtime followers will surely note a few favorites Strait skipped, they did get to hear a generous and deep selection of songs from throughout his career, including “I Saw God Today,” “Check Yes or No,” “She’ll Leave You with a Smile,” “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar,” “Somewhere Down in Texas,” “Amarillo by Morning,” “Troubadour,” “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” and the song that’s become his retirement anthem, “The Cowboy Rides Away.”

If Strait’s solidly entertaining performance wasn’t enough, he gave the fans something of a mini-festival, as his opening acts included Little Big Town and Chris Stapleton, who took home four CMA awards earlier in the week.