George Strait paid musical homage to one of his own heroes during the opening night of his Las Vegas run on Friday night (April 22), playing a medley in honor of Merle Haggard.

Strait played to a sold-out crowd of 19,222 fans on the first night of his Strait to Vegas shows at the new T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

“I’ve missed you guys and I’m looking forward to being here a few more nights this year,” Strait told the crowd early on, according to a press release. He performed for more than two hours, dipping deep into a catalog that includes more than 60 No. 1 hits and performing classics including “Give It All We’ve Got Tonight,” “Ocean Front Property,” “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” and more. But Strait also took a few minutes out from his own hits to offer up a tribute to Haggard, who passed away on April 6 after struggling with his health for several months.

“We’ll never get to hear Merle play live again, but his music will live on forever,” Strait said before performing a medley of “Mama Tried,” “Fightin’ Side of Me” and “My Life’s Been Grand."

Haggard was a prime influence on Strait during his own formative years, he tells the Morning Hangover.

“When he did ‘Okie From Muskogee’ back in the ’70s, I kinda got hooked then, on Merle and country music," he said just after Haggard's passing.

“When I was in the Army and stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, you know Merle came there and he played. I remember I was playing an NCO club that night, and before my little gig I got to run over there, and I kind of snuck in and saw Merle,” he recalls. “It just blew me away. That’s what I wanted to be like. I wanted to be like the Hag. I can’t tell you how big of an influence he was on me. Just huge.”

Kacey Musgraves opened for Strait on Friday, and she'll open the rest of his scheduled Vegas run, which includes more dates in April, as well as shows in September and December, and February of 2017.

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