Nashville honors George Jones at tribute concert

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - "During the funeral, we mourned George; tonight we celebrate," formerGrand Ole Opryannouncer Keith Bilbrey told the crowd atBridgestone ArenaFriday. The night originally was intended to be George Jones' retirement show. Instead, it turned out to be astar-studded tributeto the singer, who died in April at age 81. Billed as Playin' Possum: The Final No Show, the sold-out concert featured acts ranging fromGarth Brooksto Kid Rock, from Megadeth to George Strait.

Nashville cats.Early in the show, co-host Charlie Chase announced that 112 artists would appear on 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 Bentleysaid 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. It's church."

The night begins.Big & Rich opened the show, taking the stage in on a pair of John Deere Green riding mowers and singingLove Bug, a 1965 hit. Then John Rich introduced Kid Rock, who sangWhite 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 andTrisha Yearwoodsang 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 singleThese Days (I Barely Get By). The weirdest pairing had to be Jamey Johnson and heavy-metal band Megadeth, who coveredWild 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 theCountry Music Association's reigning Entertainer of the Year, one of the few performers to get a pair of songs. He sangThe Grand Toursolo, then brought outMartina McBrideto sing the Jones/Wynette duetGolden Ring.

Best of the night.Sam & Dave's Sam Moore turnedBlues Maninto 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 ofChoices, while Josh Turner explored the lower range of Jones' singing style with his version ofOne Woman Man. Vince Gill, who called singingGo Rest High on That Mountainand Jones' memorial "maybe the hardest thing I've ever had to do," received a standing ovation for his emotion-packed rendition ofBartender's Blues.After singingThe 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?"

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