Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks
Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks perform at a tribute concert for George Jones. Getty Images

Music City's biggest stars show up for "Playin' Possum! The Final No Show Tribute To George Jones"

During the latter years of George Jones' touring career, the legend would typically try to open a package date rather than close the show. Watching "Matlock" or a football game were two of his latter-day addictions – so he tried to schedule his stage time around the television. That being said, it was symbolic that at the George Jones Tribute Concert at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena on Friday night, the first performance featured during the night belonged to Jones – via an early 1990s video of his "No Show Jones." From there, while that was the only piece of footage to feature the singer, his memory was saluted for close to four hours during what was billed as the "Final No Show."

More Possum

First up on the bill were Big & Rich, who entertained with a high-octane version of Jones' 1965 top ten "Lovebug." With the night off and running, they made way for the next act of the evening, Kid Rock, for a performance of "White Lightning," the first Billboard chart-topper for Jones from the spring of 1959.

One of the strongest audience reactions came next for Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks. The couple turned in a magical version of "Take Me," the first hit in the Jones duet partnership with Tammy Wynette. Both vocalists were on their A-game, with Brooks' performance likely whetting fans' appetites for his Walmart box set, due Nov. 28. 

With over 100 artists scheduled to perform for Jones, who died April 26 at age 81, there were several medleys that featured multiple artists. Emmylou Harris led a group of veteran female vocalists that included Leona Williams, Jan Howard, Jeannie Seely, and Janie Fricke. One of country music's most dynamic modern female vocalists was next, and Lee Ann Womack didn't disappoint with a textbook version of "Once You've Had The Best."

It was one hit artist after the other, with Charlie Daniels, Dailey & Vincent, Bailee & The Boys, and the Kentucky Headhunters lending their voices to Jones standards. Many of the performances were up-tempo crowd favorites, while others pushed the emotional button to the max. Soul singer Sam Moore -- of Sam & Dave fame -- chose the latter, safely putting the sold-out crowd in the palm of his hand with a soaring version of "The Blues Man." Originally written and performed by Hank Williams, Jr. in 1981, Jones recorded the song a few years ago with Dolly Parton, and the lyrics – about a man whose life found new meaning due to a strong woman – easily mirrored Jones' marriage to wife Nancy.

Some artists picked out lesser-known Jones recordings, such as Clay Walker, who performed "Things Have Gone To Pieces," a record 'The Possum' cut during his 1965-1971 stint with Musicor.  It was one of the highlights of the evening. Another unlikely performance was "She Thinks I Still Care." Though the song was one of Jones' signature songs, few expected Styx's Tommy Shaw to pull off such a winning version of the Dickey Lee-written classic. Other top moments of the first act included the Oak Ridge Boys nod to "Same Ole Me," a song they provided backing harmonies for Jones in 1982, Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert's stone country "These Days (I Barely Get By)," and another all-star pairing that included dramatic takes from Lisa Matassa on "The Love In Your Eyes" and a nice job on "Wine Colored Roses" from T.G. Sheppard. And, that was act one...

After a brief intermission, it was on to the second act of the night, which featured a strong performance of "The Door" from longtime Jones friend Travis Tritt, and Brad Paisley's fun cover of "The One I Loved Back Then." Jamey Johnson provided what was perhaps one of the most eclectic performances of the evening, teaming up with heavy metal icons Megadeth for Jones' 1998 single "Wild Irish Rose." 

Two of contemporary country's top artists gave some of their best performances, with Rodney Atkins delivering a knockout punch to "When The Grass Grows Over Me," and Thompson Square channeling their inner George and Tammy for a duet medley that included "Two Story House" and "We're Gonna Hold On." 

Several younger performers got a chance to shine as well, especially on "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes." Among the artists who performed on the song included Teea Goans, Greg Bates, and Eric Lee Beddingfield, whose video for "The Gospel According To Jones" was shown during the evening. 

As the night began to wind down, the star power only got bigger. Patty Loveless tipped her hat to Jones with his composition "Color Of The Blues," and Vince Gill added a spellbinding touch to "Bartender's Blues," which was written for Jones in 1978 by James Taylor. Taking to the stage next was George Strait, who worked his Texas magic on "The Grand Tour," then stayed around to play the role of Jones to Martina McBride's Tammy Wynette on "Golden Ring," which earned a standing ovation – one of many through the evening.

Closing out the show was Jones protege Alan Jackson, who ended the evening the only way it could have ended – by taking the audience back to 1980 with "He Stopped Loving Her Today." As he got ready to sing the final chorus, he brought Jones' widow Nancy to the stage and urged the crowd to sing along. Fans stayed around for a few moments after the performance was over, but there was no encore. After all, how do you top that?

Perhaps Keith Bilbrey – one of several emcees during the night (one of which was former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee)– summed up the evening best when he told the crowd "Don't worry about work tomorrow. This will never happen again in your lifetime," referring to the musical lineup. Nothing like it has happened in the nearly 90 years that have transpired since the Grand Ole Opry set up shop in Music City – and don't look for it again, either! It was history, and definitely a night for the ages.

Playin' Possum! The Final No Show Tribute To George Jones Setlist

  1. Lovebug – Big & Rich
  2. White Lightning – Kid Rock
  3. Take Me – Trisha Yearwood & Garth Brooks
  4. Medley: If My Heart Had Windows / Tender Years / I’m Not Ready Yet – Emmylou Harris, Jeannie Seely, Jeanne Pruett, Jan Howard, Janie Fricke, Leona Williams
  5. Once You’ve Had The Best – Lee Ann Womack
  6. Me & Jesus – Charlie Daniels
  7. I'm Ragged But I’m Right – Dailey & Vincent / Bailee & The Boys
  8. High Tech Redneck – The Kentucky Headhunters
  9. The 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 Cre – Tommy Shaw
  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. Medley: 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, Tracy Lawrence
  18. These Days (I Barely Get By) – Miranda Lambert & Blake Shelton
  19. I’m A One Woman Man – Josh Turner
  20. Finally Friday – Craig Morgan
  21. I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair – Daryle Singletary, T. Graham Brown, Pam Tillis, and guest appearance from Little Jimmy Dickens
  22. Medley: The Cold Hard Truth / The Right Left Hand / She’s My Rock – Eddy Raven, Ken Mellons, Mark Collie, Lee Greenwood, John Michael Montgomery
  23. The Door – Travis Tritt 
  24. The One I Loved Back Then (The Corvette Song) – Brad Paisley
  25. Wild Irish Rose – Jamey Johnson & Megadeth
  26. Why Baby Why – Jim Lauderdale & The Roys
  27. Medley: 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, Ray Stevens, 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. Medley: Two Story House / We’re Gonna Hold On -Thompson Square
  33. Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes – Eric Lee Beddingfield, Mandy Barnett, Teea Goans, Chad Warrix, Greg Bates
  34. If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will) – Shooter Jennings & Jessi Colter
  35. Color Of The Blues – Patty Loveless
  36. Walk Through This World With Me – Lisa Matassa
  37. Bartenders’ Blues – Vince Gill
  38. The Grand Tour – George Strait
  39. Golden Ring – George Strait & Martina McBride
  40. He Stopped Loving Her Today – Alan Jackson

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

Print