By Erin Duvall
In Nashville Friday night (Nov.22), as the country remembered JFK 50 years after his assassination, thousands of music fans paid tribute to another American legend, George Jones. Music City’s Bridgestone Arena was packed (the show sold out months ago), while those who couldn’t get inside watched from Jumbotrons set up outside on the plaza. Dubbed Playin’ Possum: The Final No-Show, the concert lasted four hours and welcomed more than 100 artists — including Megadeth, Sam Moore and Styx — to to perform 48 Jones hits.
The night — which included numerous emcees such as broadcasters Crook & Chase and Ralph Emery — was continually professed to be “historic” with some claiming it was the “largest tribute event in music history.” One host, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, went so far as to connect the fallen president’s legacy with the concert, saying, “You will remember where you were on Nov. 22,” and while he meant 2013, Huckabee uttered, “1963.”
The tribute began with Big & Rich taking the stage on matching green riding lawn movers, a poke at George’s infamous trip to the liquor store upon a similar vehicle. The pair opened with George’s tune, “Love Bug,” and then introduced rocker Kid Rock to sing “White Lightning.”
Trisha Yearwood and husband Garth Brooks took the stage to perhaps the loudest roar of the evening, before performing “Take Me,” the Possum’s duet with his former musical partner and wife, the late Tammy Wynette (Jones and Wynette were married between 1969 and 1975). Yearwood and Brooks ended their performance by singing the last line to one another and sharing a kiss.
Several other couples paid their respects to George and Tammy throughout the night. Blake Shelton and wife Miranda Lambert sang “These Days (I Barely Get By)” before Shelton professed, “We love you, George Jones.” Before the night was over, Shawna and Keifer Thompson of Thompson Square played “Two Story House,” into “We’re Gonna Hold On.”
During a night of memorable moments, perhaps the most chilling came when Eric Church took the stage with just his guitar to sing the redemptive Jones’ classic, “Choices.” For the first time that night, the sound of the audience singing back, nearly drowning out Church’s voice.
Sam Moore, one half of legendary soul duo Sam & Dave, brought the audience to tears as he performed a moving version of “Blues Man,” changing the words to, “Nancy, when you came along,” and singing directly to Jones’ widow Nancy, who sat in the front row (Nancy and George married in the early ’80s, and she is credited with sobering him up and saving his life).
The award for most unique performance of the evening went to Jamey Johnson’s collaboration with heavy metal group Megadeth. They performed a non-traditional cover of “Wild Irish Rose” to a somewhat bewildered audience. “Heavy metal is all about rebellion, George Jones was definitely a rebel,” Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine explained to the audience.
The most bizarre moment of the night came right before intermission when actor Jon Voight addressed the audience in support of his — and Jones’ — good friend, Randy Travis. The singer is currently battling his own demons, so Voight called for a “miracle,” and asked the crowd to stand, join hands, and yell Travis’ name numerous times. While odd, the audience dutifully obeyed.
The modern-day “King of Country Music,” George Strait entered to a standing ovation as he began the end of the show, playing tribute to a man he called one of his “all-time heroes.” Strait sang “The Grand Tour,” before inviting Martina McBride out to perform, “Golden Ring” with him.
The night of celebration ended on a somber note, as Alan Jackson sang perhaps the saddest song in country music, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”