06/07/2014 at 11:00 AM EDT
In the 17 months since George Strait walked onto the stage at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, to kick off the first leg of his two-year The Cowboy Rides Away tour
the country icon has played 45 SRO arenas and stadiums in 31 states, singing his remarkable catalog of hits for well over 1 million fans.
His star-studded roster of opening acts has included Eric Church, Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert
, Martina McBride, Merle Haggard, Little Big Town, Sheryl Crow
, Vince Gill, Tim McGraw
, Faith Hill
, Lee Ann Womack and Chris Young. Strait has also – with the Military Warriors Support Foundation – handed the keys to a new house to four Marine veterans, one National Guard veteran, and 21 Army veterans.
On Saturday, the beloved Texas cowboy
will close the tour in the home of the Dallas Cowboys – AT&T Stadium, where he played the venue's first show five years ago.
"At sound check, there was still construction going on," he remembered with a laugh at a press conference there last year with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. "It was the only time I've ever had to wear a hard hat during sound check!"
He'll have his signature white Resistol on when he steps into the spotlight before 100,000 fans after Asleep at the Wheel's opening set. Through the three-hour show, he will be joined by Aldean, Church, Crow, Gill, Lambert, Hill, McBride, Womack, Kenny Chesney and Alan Jackson, who will each perform three songs with the King of Country and his Ace in the Hole Band.
"George Strait is without a doubt The King," said Chesney when asked about Strait's legacy. "I am a self-proclaimed George Strait wanna-be. The two years [early in my career] I spent on the road with George were the most educational two summers of my touring life. I'm proud to call him my hero and my friend."
Strait admits that saying goodbye to all of his friends was harder than he thought it would be.
"I knew it would be kind of emotional but I was still a little surprised to feel it that strongly. The first three or four shows in 2013 were the toughest, but every night it was in the back of my mind to take it all in, because I probably wouldn't ever come back there again. It made me want to put on the best show we've ever done there. I hope we did that. I feel like we did."
The staging for the grand finale will be in the center of the floor of the huge arena, just as the others have been.
"I love that setup. Back when I started out in clubs around Texas, the audience was literally right there at the edge of the stage. This setup is kind of like those old days, which were so much fun, just a lot more people beyond the first 20 rows!"
He adds, "That first show at AT&T was a hell of a beginning for this stadium and it will be a hell of an ending for this tour. We're going out with a good time."