One of the ways you can tell how many lives a person touches is by the people who show up for the funeral. If there were ever any doubt as to the influence George Jones had on a multiple generations of country music artists and fans, those doubts were laid to rest on Thursday as a crowd of 4000-plus gathered for Jones’ public funeral at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville.
In a service lasting nearly three hours and carried live by all of Nashville’s local television stations, as well as CMT and GAC, mourners included a who’s-who of country music royalty rivaling any CMA awards show in recent memory. Barbara Mandrell, Randy Travis, Kenny Chesney, Garth Brooks, Wynonna Judd, Ronnie Milsap, Kid Rock Travis Tritt, The Oak Ridge Boys and Charlie Daniels were just a few of the notable country personalities who paid their respects by attending, performing and/or speaking at the event. Additionally, former first lady Laura Bush, who sat next to Jones’ widow Nancy during the service, mentioned how George W. used to work out to “White Lightning” in the White House gym. CBS correspondent Bob Schieffer, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and sitting Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam were also among those to offer words of tribute and share memories.
Perhaps the key moment of the event, however, was Alan Jackson’s performance of Jones’ signature song “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” evoking a final standing ovation in honor of country music’s elder statesman.
Country music tells a lot of stories—stories about love, pain, betrayal, fun times, bad times, day-to-day living, girls, trucks…the list goes on. As Bob Schieffer put it, Jones “was more than a country singer—he was a country song. And it was never an easy song.” Jones spent much of his career bearing a less-than-stellar reputation, battling demons of drug and alcohol addiction, and subsequent nicknames like “No-Show Jones.” In later life, due in part to his wife Nancy, Jones became clean and sober and went on to be a legend of a much different kind. Brad Paisley perhaps put it best: “I’m lucky enough to have met George when he had gotten right, beat the demons, found Nancy and found God.”
And so, if George Jones’ life was a country song, ultimately it told the best story of all: the story of redemption.