NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The George Jones tribute concert opened Friday night with Big & Rich rolling onto the stage on riding lawn mowers. Sam Moore serenaded Jones' widow, Nancy. And Megadeth rocked in memory of "King George."
Dozens of artists from all over the musical map participated in "Playin' Possum: The Final No Show," a marathon salute to Jones at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. The show was originally planned as Jones' final performance of his last tour, but the revered vocalist and Country Music Hall of Fame member passed away in April at 81.
"During the funeral, we mourned George," host Keith Bilbery said. "Tonight we celebrate him."
Many of the performers who took the stage had already committed to perform with Jones, and dozens more signed on after his death. Country stars such as Garth Brooks and George Strait rubbed elbows backstage with fans who come from farther afield, including Kid Rock and Styx's Tommy Shaw.
Jones' rocking chair was placed stage right symbolically, and a sold-out crowd of 16,000 listened to stars play their favorites with the help of Jones' touring band and a teleprompter. The performances ranged from faithful renditions of hits like Alan Jackson's take on "He Stopped Loving Her Today," Strait and Martina McBride's "Grand Tour" to Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton's "I Barely Get By" and Moore's "Blues Man." But the show also featured unlikely teamups — like Megadeth and Jamey Johnson taking on "Wild Irish Rose."
"Heavy metal is all about rebellion, and George was definitely a rebel," Megadeth lead singer Dave Mustaine said.
Midway through the show, actor Jon Voight took the stage to lead the crowd in a moment meant to raise the spirits of stricken singer Randy Travis, who suffered a stroke recently and is in physical rehabilitation in Nashville, Tenn.
"Let's form a human chain of love for Randy," Voight said before leading the crowd in a cheer of, "We love you, Randy."
Many of the night's acts embraced Jones' love of laughter. Big Kenny and John Rich, for instance, fired up a pair of John Deere riding lawn mowers to open the show with "Love Bug," a tip of the cap to Jones' arrest while driving a lawn mower to the liquor store.
"No one was ever more generous to me or anyone he ever met than George Jones," said Brad Paisley, who sang "The Corvette Song." ''I know he's looking down and he's saying, 'Well, son, where's all the money going for this?'"
Follow AP Music Writer Chris Talbott: http://twitter.com/Chris_Talbott.