George Jones(Photo: Michael Clancy / The Tennessean)
Gracious words for a lost friend and a moment of silence were how Pete Fisher kicked off the "Grand Ole Opry" on Saturday night.
Fisher, Grand Ole Opry vice president and general manager, told the audience for the second night in a row that the show would be dedicated to George Jones, the "Opry's" dear friend and Country Music Hall of Famer who died on Friday in Nashville at age 81.
"His spirit could not have been more present than it was on our nearly sold-out 'Friday Night Opry,'" Fisher said Saturday.
Brad Paisley made a surprise appearance during the Friday show to pay his respects to his friend. Paisley sang a medley of Jones' songs and shed some tears with John Conlee as they absorbed the loss of their friend.
After the show, Paisley tweeted: "To everyone @opry tonight: Thank you for honoring @gjpossum w/us. & for being my musical home ... This was my honor tonight. And therapy somehow."
On Saturday, Fisher called the moment "an emotional capstone to an historic evening."
"Everyone in the Opry House knew country music had lost its greatest and most distinctive voice just hours earlier," Fisher said. "But three generations of performers on stage and fans in the crowd witnessed how his legacy would live on, both through his timeless classics and his indelible influence on today's stars."
There weren't unexpected superstar sightings at the "Grand Ole Opry" on Saturday night, but country traditionalists including Jimmy C. Newman and Jim Ed Brown remembered Jones as a contemporary, while newcomers Morgan Frazier and Kristen Kelly recalled the influence he had and continues to have on their music.
Newman performed "Seasons of My Heart," a song he performed with Jones early in their careers, and Brown, who hosted a segment of the show, told the audience that Jones was one of the best singers to "ever stand in that little round circle."
When Rhonda Vincent took the stage, she recalled her first meeting with Jones, saying it was "quite unexpected." She was sitting on the front row of a show when the country legend started talking about a young female artist whom he said he and his band "really loved."
"I was waiting to see who it was, and it was me," said the bluegrass singer. "I had just had my first single, and he was waving for me to come on stage. I was frozen. It was one of many memories."
Jeannie Seely hosted a segment in the show and talked about how fun-loving Jones always was backstage at the Opry House.
"I like to remember those times," Seely said. "And we'll certainly always miss George Jones."
For Curb Record's new artist Morgan Frazier, Jones' "White Lightning" was one of the first songs she learned. Her grandfather would take her to play at retirement homes on Fridays and she would play the song for the residents. However, the newcomer, a Texas native, chose "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes" for her "Opry" performance.
Kristen Kelly, who brought her sister Kimberly to sing backup for her Saturday night, sang "Choices" when she stepped on stage and said the moment would always be a highlight in her career.
"It's one of the highest honors I've had so far," she said of performing during Jones' "Opry" shows. "I didn't see this day coming. I don't think anybody did. To be a part of the 'Opry' and to be a part of history and honoring him will stand out in my career forever."
Gospel singer Jason Crabb, who played the "Opry" on Friday night, said the two nights of shows in Jones' honor demonstrate how even though country music lost one of its founding fathers on Friday, he'll never truly be gone.
"That's the great thing about Nashville and the 'Grand Ole Opry,'" Crabb said. "Our lives are like that: We are here today, and who knows when we're going to be gone. But the great thing about the 'Opry' is the song lives on and their memories live on. Last night everyone took their hats off for George."