Concert Review: George Jones at the Ryman
You know that you’ve purchased tickets to the right concert when there are as many A-list recording artists watching in awe from the wings as there are fans in the audience.
Maybe that wasn’t exactly the case for George Jones’ Sunday night show at a packed Ryman Auditorium, but it sure seemed like it. While the Possum certainly didn’t need any help, he introduced surprise guest performances by Joe Nichols, Lee Ann Womack and Tanya Tucker and the backstage area was visibly overflowing with other dignitaries.
Jones’s Georgia Boys performed a brief set of cover tunes before The Possum strode onstage in his familiar tinted glasses and sang “Why Baby Why.” George apologized for performing without his guitar due to a recent wrist injury but said that things have been going much better since he stopped playing. “The boys say I’m the worst rhythm player they’ve ever had,” he joked. “I think they forgot who pays them.”
While George has never been a great technical singer, his voice has weakened considerably over the years, a fact that he explained by citing “the awful shock my vocal cords had after I quit drinking and smoking.” While he seemed to wear down as the night went on, his vocals were not as poor as I expected after viewing footage from some of his recent shows. Furthermore, he has lost nothing of his trademark phrasing. He can still bend a word until your heart aches and earned enthusiastic applause whenever he growled a low note.
The old ladies danced in the Ryman pews to upbeat favorites like “The Race is On” and “The Corvette Song” and the award-winning “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” earned a standing ovation. “Choices” and “50,000 Names” were inspired performances accentuated by touching slideshows. But the real story of the night was the legacy of the Possum and the respect of the country stars who had gathered backstage to watch a legend perform. The first to join George on stage was Joe Nichols, who the King of Broken Hearts introduced as “a young guy that sings pure country, the way I like it.” Nichols covered “Workin’ Man Blues” and sang Haggard’s part on the Jones-Haggard duet “Yesterday’s Wine.”
Nichols left the stage and Jones covered songs by Haggard and Tom T. Hall before introducing one of his favorite singers, Lee Ann Womack, to join him on “Golden Ring.” Womack had a little trouble synchronizing with Jones on the chorus, but the Possum is not easy to sing with these days. Years of heart-felt performances of familiar songs have altered the pace and interpretation of some until they bear little resemblance to the original recordings.
After performing his late eighties hit “One Woman Man” in deference to his wife Nancy, Jones performed two more Wynette duets with Brittany Allen of the Georgia Boys. Before “Near You,” Allen asked George if they might perform a pop song. “It wouldn’t be pop by the time we got done with it,” Jones replied, and Allen said she’d settle for a pop song that George and Tammy made into a country hit.
Jones could never get through the biggest songs in his catalog without a medley or two and he put together a great one toward the end of his set that included “The Grand Tour,” “She Thinks I Still Care” and “White Lightning.” After finishing the moonshine anthem, Jones took a deep breath and the Ryman crowd came unglued as the band struck the most famous G-chord in country music and Jones sang, “He said I’ll love you ’til I die…”
Opener Jason Byrd and Joe Nichols returned to the stage to join George in the finale of “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair” and the biggest surprise of the evening came when Tanya Tucker bounded onto the stage unannounced and growled along with the chorus. After finishing the song, George turned to Tanya and laughed, “Don’t you think we ought to tell these people who you are?” The audience’s raucous applause indicated that no introduction was needed. Tanya proceeded to sing an excellent rendition of “The Window Up Above” (which she covered on the God’s Country Jones tribute album) and the night might have ended on that note if not for the audience’s repeated cries for her signature song, “Delta Dawn.” Tucker hesitated, as I suspect that not even she is brave enough to upstage George Jones, but he sang “Delta Dawn, what’s that flower you have on…” and Tanya took over. With a quick shout to the band she jumped from the chorus of “Delta Dawn” into the opening line of “Texas (When I Die).” Tanya removed her overcoat and shook her booty as Jones donned her hat and danced in front of the drum set. Tucker exited the stage to a standing ovation and Jones thanked the crowd and followed her offstage as the lights came up.
[set list following the jump]
“Why Baby Why”
“Once You’ve Had the Best”
“The Race is On”
“I Always Get Lucky With You”
“Black Mountain Rag”
“I’m Not Ready Yet”
“Sinners and Saints”
“A Picture of Me Without You”
“The Corvette Song”
“Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?”
Georgia Boys’ original fiddle tune
Joe Nichols: “Workin’ Man Blues”
“Yesterday’s Wine” (with Joe Nichols)
“The Way I Am”
“Me and Jesus”
“Golden Ring” (with Lee Ann Womack)
“I’m a One Woman Man”
“Take Me” (with Brittany Allen)
“Near You” (with Brittany Allen)
“Fire on the Mountain”
Medley: “The Window Up Above / The Grand Tour / Walk Through This World With Me / She Thinks I Still Care / White Lightning”
“He Stopped Loving Her Today”
“I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair” (with Jason Byrd, Joe Nichols and Tanya Tucker)
Tanya Tucker: “The Window Up Above”
Tanya Tucker: “Delta Dawn”
Tanya Tucker: “Texas (When I Die)”
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