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.” At the end of his performance, Jackson invited Nancy Jones to the stage and the audience sang back the chorus to her as she hugged Jackson, visibly emotional.
As they left the stage, Jackson took a moment to give a slight push to the empty rocking chair that sat on the edge of the stage for Jones all night. It rocked away as the audience members composed themselves in time for the lights to come back up.
The full list of performances from Playin’ Possum: The Final No-Show is below:
1. “Love Bug,” Big & Rich
2. “White Lightning,” Kid Rock
3. “Take Me,” Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood
4. “If My Heart Had Windows,” “Tender Years,” “I’m Not Ready Yet,” Emmylou Harris, Jeannie Seely, Janie Fricke, Jeanne Pruett, Jan Howard and Leona Williams
5. “Once You’ve Had the Best,” Lee Ann Womack
6. “Me and Jesus,” Charlie Daniels
7. “I’m Ragged But I’m Right,” Dailey & Vincent, Baillie & the Boys
8. “High-Tech Redneck,” The Kentucky HeadHunters
9. “Blues Man,” Sam Moore
10. “I’m a Long Gone Daddy,” Kathy Mattea
11. “Things Have Gone to Pieces,” Clay Walker
12. “Choices,” Eric Church
13. “She Thinks I Still Care,” Tommy Shaw of Styx
14. “I Always Get Lucky With You,” Dierks Bentley
15. “Same Ole Me,” The Oak Ridge Boys
16. “A Good Year for the Roses,” Larry Gatlin
17. “The Love in Your Eyes,” “Wine Colored Roses,” “I’ll Share My World With You,” Collin Raye, Jett Williams, Lisa Matassa, Suzy Bogguss, T. Graham Brown, T.G. Sheppard and Tracy Lawrence
18. “These Days (I Barely Get By),” Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert
19. “One Woman Man,” Josh Turner
20. “Finally Friday,” Craig Morgan
21. “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)
22. “The Cold Hard Truth,” “The Right Left Hand,” Eddy Raven, John Michael Montgomery, Lee Greenwood, Mark Collie and Ken Mellons
23. “The Door,” Travis Tritt
24. “The One I Loved Back Then,” Brad Paisley
25. “Wild Irish Rose,” Jamey Johnson and Megadeth
26. “Why Baby Why,” Jim Lauderdale and The Roys
27. “When the Last Curtain Falls,” “Still Doin’ Time,” “Someday My Day Will Come,” Bill Anderson, Bobby Bare, Jim Ed Brown, Jimmy C. Newman, John Conlee, Larry Gatlin, Ray Stevens and Stonewall Jackson
28. “Tennessee Whiskey,” Jamey Johnson
29. “When the Grass Grows Over Me,” Rodney Atkins
30. “A Picture of Me (Without You),” Lorrie Morgan
31. “The Race Is On,” Montgomery Gentry
32. “Two Story House,” “We’re Gonna Hold On,” Thompson Square
33. “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes,” Chad Warrix, Eric Lee Beddingfield, Greg Bates, Mandy Barnett, Linda Davis and Teea Goans
34. “If Drinking Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will),” Jessi Colter and Shooter Jennings
35. “Color of the Blues,” Patty Loveless
36. “Walk Through This World With Me,” Lisa Matassa
37. “Bartender’s Blues,” Vince Gill
38. “The Grand Tour,” George Strait
39. “Golden Ring,” George Strait and Martina McBride
40. “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” Alan Jackson