NASHVILLE - "During the funeral, we mourned George; tonight we celebrate," former Grand Ole Opry announcer Keith Bilbrey told the crowd atBridgestone Arena Friday. The night originally was intended to be George Jones' retirement show. Instead, it turned out to be a star-studded tribute to the singer, who died in April at age 81. Billed as 'Playin' Possum: The Final No-Show,' the sold-out concert featured acts ranging from Garth Brooksand George Strait to Kid Rock and Megadeth.
Nashville cats: Early in the evening, co-host Charlie Chase announced that 112 artists would appear during the show, which ran longer than four hours: "Talk about wrangling cats!" But not all the acts expected to be on-site all night. "Everybody I've talked to says they're going on early," Dierks Bentley said backstage .
Full to overflowing: After the concert sold out, event organizers arranged to show it via closed-circuit television on the plaza of the Bridgestone Arena. Inside, Pam Tillismarveled at the atmosphere. "To be in a venue this big and hear traditional country music? It doesn't happen much anymore. And the audience is just eating it up. It's church."
The night begins: Big & Rich opened the show, taking the stage on a pair of John Deere Green riding mowers and singing Love Bug, a 1965 hit. Then John Rich introduced Kid Rock, who sang White Lightning. Four hours later, after dozens of acts performed more than 40 songs from Jones' catalog, Alan Jackson closed the show with Jones' signature hit, He Stopped Loving Her Today, calling him "the greatest country singer that ever was."
Duets: Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood sang the first duet of the night, a cover ofTake Me, a 1971 hit for Jones and his then-wife, Tammy Wynette. Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, probably the closest thing to a modern-day George & Tammy, sang Jones' 1974 single These Days (I Barely Get By). The weirdest pairing had to be Jamey Johnson and heavy-metal band Megadeth, who covered Wild Irish Rose, a 1998 single that never charted for Jones. "Heavy metal is all about rebellion, and George was definitely a rebel," Megadeth guitarist Dave Mustaine said after the performance.
Strait to the point: George Strait thinks he was named after Jones. "Should've been, anyway," said the Country Music Association's reigning entertainer of the year, one of the few performers to get a pair of songs. He sang The Grand Tour solo, then brought out Martina McBride to sing the Jones/Wynette duet Golden Ring.
Best of the night: Sam & Dave's Sam Moore turned Blues Man into a heart-rending serenade to Jones' widow, Nancy Jones, sung from George's perspective, at one point addressing her directly and singing, "I was sinking, Nancy, when you came along." Eric Church gave a solo performance of Choices, while Josh Turner explored the lower range of Jones' singing style with his version of One Woman Man. Vince Gill, who called singing Go Rest High on That Mountain at Jones' memorial "maybe the hardest thing I've ever had to do," received a standing ovation for his emotion-packed rendition of Bartender's Blues. After singing The One I Loved Back Then, Brad Paisley gave what was perhaps the quote of the night: "No one was more generous to me, or anybody he ever met, than George Jones. All of us are here because of him. I know he's looking down at this and saying, 'Well, son, where's all the money going for this?' "
The set list:
1. Love Bug, Big & Rich
2. White Lightning, Kid Rock
3. Take Me, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood
4. If My Heart Had Windows, Emmylou Harris, Jeannie Seely, Janie Fricke, Jeanne Pruett, Jan Howard and Leona Williams
5. Tender Years, Emmylou Harris, Jeannie Seely, Janie Fricke, Jeanne Pruett, Jan Howard and Leona Williams
6. I'm Not Ready Yet, Emmylou Harris, Jeannie Seely, Janie Fricke, Jeanne Pruett, Jan Howard and Leona Williams
7. Once You've Had the Best, Lee Ann Womack
8. Me and Jesus, Charlie Daniels
9. I'm Ragged But I'm Right, Dailey & Vincent, Baillie & the Boys
10. High-Tech Redneck, The Kentucky HeadHunters
11. Blues Man, Sam Moore
12. I'm a Long Gone Daddy, Kathy Mattea
13. Things Have Gone to Pieces, Clay Walker
14. Choices, Eric Church
15. She Thinks I Still Care, Tommy Shaw of Styx
16. I Always Get Lucky With You, Dierks Bentley
17. Same Ole Me, The Oak Ridge Boys
18. A Good Year for the Roses, Larry Gatlin
19. The Love in Your Eyes, Collin Raye, Jett Williams, Lisa Matassa, Suzy Bogguss, T. Graham Brown, T.G. Sheppard and Tracy Lawrence
20. Wine Colored Roses, Collin Raye, Jett Williams, Lisa Matassa, Suzy Bogguss, T. Graham Brown, T.G. Sheppard and Tracy Lawrence
21. I'll Share My World With You, Collin Raye, Jett Williams, Lisa Matassa, Suzy Bogguss, T. Graham Brown, T.G. Sheppard and Tracy Lawrence
22. These Days (I Barely Get By), Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert
23. One Woman Man, Josh Turner
24. Finally Friday, Craig Morgan
25. I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair, Daryle Singletary with T. Graham Brown, Janie Fricke, T.G. Sheppard, Tracy Lawrence, Mark Collie, Eddy Raven and Pam Tillis (end of first set)
26. The Cold Hard Truth, Eddy Raven, John Michael Montgomery, Lee Greenwood, Mark Collie and Ken Mellons
27. The Right Left Hand, Eddy Raven, John Michael Montgomery, Lee Greenwood, Mark Collie and Ken Mellons
28. The Door, Travis Tritt
29. The One I Loved Back Then, Brad Paisley
30. Wild Irish Rose, Jamey Johnson and Megadeth
31. Why Baby Why, Jim Lauderdale and The Roys
32. When the Last Curtain Falls, Bill Anderson, Bobby Bare, Jim Ed Brown, Jimmy C. Newman, John Conlee, Larry Gatlin, Ray Stevens and Stonewall Jackson
33. Still Doin' Time, Bill Anderson, Bobby Bare, Jim Ed Brown, Jimmy C. Newman, John Conlee, Larry Gatlin, Ray Stevens and Stonewall Jackson
34. Someday My Day Will Come, Bill Anderson, Bobby Bare, Jim Ed Brown, Jimmy C. Newman, John Conlee, Larry Gatlin, Ray Stevens and Stonewall Jackson
35. Tennessee Whiskey, Jamey Johnson
36. When the Grass Grows Over Me, Rodney Atkins
37. A Picture of Me (Without You), Lorrie Morgan
38. The Race Is On, Montgomery Gentry
39. Two Story House, Thompson Square
40. We're Gonna Hold On, Thompson Square
41. Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes, Chad Warrix, Eric Lee Beddingfield, Greg Bates, Mandy Barnett, Linda Davis and Teea Goans
42. If Drinking Don't Kill Me (Her Memory Will), Jessi Colter and Shooter Jennings
43. Color of the Blues, Patty Loveless
44. Walk Through This World With Me, Lisa Matassa
45. Bartender's Blues, Vince Gill
46. The Grand Tour, George Strait
47. Golden Ring, George Strait and Martina McBride
48. He Stopped Loving Her Today, Alan Jackson