Salem Civic Center Salem, Va.
By Tom Netherland
SALEM, Va. - George Jones is an obviously happy man these days. Once notorious for missing shows, Goerge Jones, 66 and with very white hair, not only makes the shows, he thrives in them.
On this blustery Saturday night in Salem, Jones performed for but an hour, but what an hour. Humor, via Jones' frequent dialogue and stage mannerisms, accompanied the lyrics of some of country music's most forlorn lyrics by its greatest purveyor, throughout. "A Picture Of Me (Without You)" and "Bartender's Blues," inflected with a slight nod or an exaggerated note, evoked not only their original rampant loneliness, but also a sense of redemption through Jones' humor, as if to illustrate that he had survived it all in fine shape. Many heads nodded in agreement as Jones, who spoke at length between each song on one topic or another, decried the absence of "real country music" on radio.
Prefacing his performance of Merle Haggard's "The Way I am," Jones proclaimed Haggard is "my favorite real country music singer" and noted that "you can take radio and ram it" if they fail to play older artists such as himself and Haggard. Jones no doubt has lost nothing by way of vocal prowess. His whiskey-rich vocals on the forthcoming single, "Wild Irish Rose," a tune about a Vietnam Vet who'd "sunk to the bottom of a river of red wine," firmly makes the case that radio has expunged older artists such as Jones simply because they happen to be older. Radio says it's demographics; this crowd, and Jones, would say baloney to that. Early on in his sparse 13-song set Jones plugged his new TNN show, The George Jones Show, saying "boy, they really got me wound up" doing the show." Well, Jones got this crowd wound up with fervent versions of "High Tech Redneck" and "The Race Is On," both sung with a verve and vitality that belie all possible effects of Jones' infamous past. Slower, more emotionally intense songs, such as the classic "Once You've Had The Best," featured tongue-in-cheek improvised lyrics by the man who once knew the saddest of songs as being the soundtrack of his life. With wife Nancy sitting off stage right, though, and the bottle years in his past, Jones was buoyant to the end. Following an obligatory, though always winning, performance of "He Stopped Loving Her Today," Jones was joined by openers BR5-49 for a rambunctious, ornery "I Don't Need Your Rocking Chair," intensely punctuating the show's close.
BR5-49's opening set was greeted at first with quizzical glances from the audience. 35 minutes later, grandmas and grandpas were slapping their knees alongside their grandkids, surprised and refreshed by what they were hearing. For many of the older folks, they'd not heard Johnny Horton's "Cherokee Boogie" since the early 60s. Imagine their excitement when Chuck Mead hiccuped his way through a faithful, rollicking take on the classic. One older lady, unable to stay in her seat, bounced around to the beats as best she could, smiling as if she were trying to spread her face clear to Louisiana.