Shy ‘Possum’ changed on stage

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Country was not on my list of preferred music when I helped promote the concert. In fact, I knew little, other than the recognizable name, about the artist coming to Andalusia.

Still, I was getting the word out for the Covington Center Arena so I set out to learn something about the man. I went online and read about his journey from a runaway at age 14 to a music legend who was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992.

The story of his life read like the lyrics of a country music song. Born with a broken arm, a runaway at age 14, unsuccessful marriages and substance abuse — he lived the songs he sung. In 1956, they named him the Most Promising New Country Vocalist and the rest, as they say, is history.

Anyway, this was the person whose concert I was promoting, and it took little promotion because everyone knew him. Tickets sales went well and there was excitement in the air the day of the event.

I was there early and watched as the crew set up the equipment for the night’s performance. His bus drove in just before time to take the stage. I met his wife briefly. She was nice, exceptionally pretty and very protective when it came to her husband.

The seats filled as it got closer to time for the concert to begin and the crowd eagerly awaited his arrival. Finally, the man himself rode through the big doors at the side of the arena. I was there with my camera ready to document all the goings-on. His golf cart stopped near the steps leading up to the stage and I walked over, said hello to his wife and introduced myself to her husband.

Here I was face-to-face with the person Rolling Stone Magazine once called one of the greatest singers of all time. I don’t know how I expected him to look and to act. After all, it is not often you meet someone given the National Medal of Arts by the president and later saluted by the Kennedy Center Honors.

He said hello, smiled and told me it was nice to meet someone who had the same name as his wife. Surprisingly, he wasn’t tall like I thought he was from seeing him on television and there was almost a shyness about him. In fact, as I talked with him, I couldn’t get over how quiet and humble he seemed.

Then he walked onto the stage and the quiet, humble man transformed before my eyes. He grabbed his guitar, launched into his first song and the energy of the place went through the roof. From the corner of the stage, I snapped pictures and a few times he looked my way and grinned.

He was in the moment every moment of that concert and loving it. The crowd loved it too and responded with wild applause, singing along with him when he played his many big hits. That night I added country, at least this man’s brand of country, to my list of preferred music.

When I heard George Jones died, I remembered the concert and how he came to life on that stage in front of those fans, how that quiet, humble man became a force that reached out to touch everyone in that arena.

If there are lessons to learn from my meeting this country music icon, and there are always lessons, it is, first, there is no greater gift to the world than finding something we love and doing it with our whole hearts. Second, if we stay present and share what we love with open hearts, we touch each other deeply and powerfully.

That is what George Jones did and why his powerful presence remains with us through his music.