COUNTRY LEGEND GEORGE JONES IS HOTTER THAN A $2 PISTOL

04/29/06

Country star George Jones entertained a crowd of about 1,300 fans Sunday night at the Crown Arena.

For a dinosaur, this Possum was pretty feisty.

George Jones served notice once again that he’s still a bit more rock than rocking chair with a surprisingly lively show Sunday night at the Crown Arena. More than 1,300 fans stood and cheered as Jones, known as “The Possum” by decades of country fans, pulled hit after hit from a half-century of songs.

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“You know, they don’t play many drinking songs on the radio anymore,” the 74-year-old told the crowd. “They don’t play cheatin’ songs anymore, either. Lord knows if I came along now, I wouldn’t have a job.”

And while a recent bout of pneumonia may have taken the edge off his voice, there was no arguing that Jones still carries a presence on stage — even if his work is harder to find these days on the radio.

“One thing I’ve discovered is just how good water tastes,” he said as the crowd hooted at the thought of the formerly hard-drinking singer sipping on spring water.

“It’s sort of put my vocal chords in shock,” he added. “But we’ll get through.”

He did, and looked as if he was having fun doing it. From one of his earliest hits, “Why Baby Why,” through his recent, “Choices,” Jones held center stage.

His voice clearly was recovering from the illness, which led to several show cancellations in April.

In songs that required him to hit the higher notes, such as “Yesterday’s Wine” and “Sinners and Saints,” he had some trouble.

Still, he was up to the task on other challenging songs. “The Corvette Song,” with its four-octave chorus, was hit in fine fashion, and his recent duet of “Blues Man” was strong.

The audience, of course, loved it. After not seeing Jones in Fayetteville in more than a decade, fans were happy he stopped by.

“I’ve never had a chance to see him, and I wasn’t about to miss it,” said Tony Tatum, who scored front-row seats.

The crowd was an interesting blend of ages and appearance. Some were toted on their dads’ shoulders, others wheeled in by their daughters. Many weren’t even alive the last time Jones came to town. Others were old enough to consider him young.

“My kids are all about country,” said James Lewis as the crowd settled in. Next to him, Brittany and James Jr. fidgeted as the Fayetteville country band Dakota Rain opened the concert.

“And I think if they like country, they’ve got to like George Jones,” Lewis said.

With more than 160 hits, some had to be left out. But the big hits were there. And when Jones’ voice seemed ready to slip, he’d dive an octave or two, reminding those who might have forgotten just what an extraordinary talent he had.

It was especially touching to see his tribute to fellow legends and fallen friends in “Who’s Going to Fill Their Shoes.” As he sang, images of country music legends flashed on a screen behind the band. A recent addition to the montage was Buck Owens, who passed away a month ago.

So, by the end of the concert, the voice may have been a bit tired.

But the heart of country music was just getting warmed up.

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