Halfway through Toby Keith’s set on Friday night at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio, California, Keith stopped the music to talk about his old friend George Jones, who had passed away that morning.
Keith told the audience what Jones was like and described him as a “great guy and the face of country music everybody recognized.” He also reminded the younger generation in the audience to “look him up online.” A few seconds later, he launched into the musical portion of his tribute; “here’s a little something you might recognize,” he said before strumming the chords to Jones’ classic hit “She Thinks I Still Care.” Keith would later play his rendition of “White Lighting,” another one of Jones’ memorable hits.
On the grounds at Stagecoach, California radio station K-FROG 95.1 asked artists for their memories of Jones.
Trace Adkins (who also paid tribute to Jones onstage) was at a loss for words as he recalled being woken up by the phone call Friday morning. He then recalled how Jones and his wife Nancy Jones hosted a baby shower for his own wife nine years ago.
“He and Nancy both, they meant so much to me and my family,” he said. “I remember going over to George’s house that night to pick up all the stuff that she had gotten and just sitting there for a while and going, ‘Man, 25 years ago if somebody would have told me that I was going to pull up at George Jones’ house because my wife was having a baby shower in his house.’ It was just a surreal moment where I just sat there for a while.”
Joe Nichols also described hearing the news of Jones’ passing that very morning.
“It hit me like a truck,” Nichols said. “I couldn’t believe it. It’s the end of something special to me. I’ll be sad about it for I don’t know how long. It’s a sad day for all of music.”
Nichols performed “One Woman Man,” a tribute to Jones during his set at the festival and later explained how Jones’ reputation trumps genres.
“I’m pleasantly surprised that all of the folks across the genre aisle of music that have tweeted and come out in the media and said this is a very sad thing,” he continued. “It tells you what kind of person he was and what kind of icon he was in our culture.”
Dierks Bentley also had a few words to share about the passing of Jones. “We were friends. It’s one of those things you really kick yourself for. We’re great friends, but the last couple years I’ve been really busy, and I didn’t spend enough time with him,” he said. “There’s nothing you can say. He’s George Jones. He’s one of a kind, all time. I’m going to do something for him on stage tonight.”
Bentley called on a special guest, Chris Shiflett, to pay homage to Jones onstage. Shiflett is best known for being the lead guitarist of the Foo Fighters, but also performed at Stagecoach with his band, the Dead Peasants. Bentley played Jones’ hit “Walk Through This World With Me” and wanted to have Shiflett up on stage with him to “bring that mellow guitar sound” the song required.
Phil Vassar also reflected on the influence Jones had on his life. “He was one of our buddies and such a great guy. Definitely the best country voice,” he said. “I remember as a kid, my dad was like, ‘You listen to him sing, you won’t ever have to listen to anybody else sing.’ Which is really true. That guy was awesome. I love that old stuff. I’ll tell you, George Jones was just amazing.”
Rodney Atkins also chimed in about the country legend. “He was the best to ever hold a microphone,” he said. “Watching him sing is like watching a great movie, you just get pulled in. He’s the best ever, and it was crazy singing with him on stage.”
Even the younger artists on the Stagecoach bill appreciated the importance of George Jones to Country Music.”I’m so jealous I never got to meet him, but his life will live on through his music,” Jana Kramer said. Before opening the Mane Stage at Stagecoach on Friday afternoon, Maggie Rose also talked about Jones, saying, “George was responsible for making this genre better.”
Overall, the Stagecoach Country Music Festival was a triumphant celebration of George Jones’ career and life.
– Steve Hay and Michael Trobisch KFRG 95.1/Riverside & Radio.com