In a memorial service that was by turns raucous, rocking and reverent, Waylon Jennings was warmly remembered by friends, fans and family at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium on Saturday (March 23).
from Charley Pride to Kris Kristofferson to
Jennings' own son Shooter paid tribute to the late Country Music Hall of Fame member in song and story. The 64-year-old country
star died on Feb. 13 in his sleep at his home in Phoenix where he and wife Jessi Colter
had moved after selling their Nashville home.
The service was open to the public -- the Ryman's main floor was reserved
for family and friends; the 1,000-seat balcony was open to the general public, on a first come, first serve basis. Fans started
arriving long before the 7:30 p.m. start time, and by the time the doors opened at 7 p.m., a double line of waiting people
snaked from the Ryman's doors down Fourth Avenue to Broadway. Fans spent the time swapping stories about Jennings and waving
to the celebrities arriving in tour buses and limousines. "There's Emmylou!" "I saw Rodney Crowell!" "I said hi to Hank Jr. in the alley!"
disc jockey Carl P. Mayfield, who in recent years gave Jennings a public forum with the call-in show "Waylon Wednesdays" on
station WKDF-FM (103.3), served as master of ceremonies. The service -- dubbed "I've Always Been Crazy: A Celebration of the
Life and Legacy of Waylon Jennings" -- began with Jennings' son Shooter taking the stage -- which was adorned with a large
backdrop of Jennings' signature flying "W" logo, a large picture of him and two tall vases of red roses flanking his familiar
Telecaster guitar with the hand-tooled leather cover, a black cowboy hit perched atop its neck.
Shooter Jennings welcomed
the crowd and explained that although Johnny Cash had been scheduled for the service (and
was listed in the program as the first musical performer), his doctors had advised against him traveling from his winter home
in Jamaica. "I talked to him and Johnny said to enjoy yourselves and honor Waylon," said Shooter.
With that, Travis Tritt took the stage. Remarking that "Waylon had one foot firmly in country and one
in rock 'n' roll, and I've tried to pattern myself after him," Tritt launched into a rocking version of Jennings' 1973 song
"Lonesome, On'ry and Mean." Backed by the 10-piece Waymore's Blues Band -- Jennings' last musical ensemble --which includes
noted sax player Jim Horn and guitarist Reggie Young, Tritt at times sounded eerily like Jennings.
He was followed
by the young group Cross Canadian Ragweed, who performed an energetic version of "Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line." That
was followed by lengthy video clips of different periods in Jennings' life and career, anchored by a recurring scenario of
actor Robert Duvall portraying a shrink, interviewing Jennings as his patient. The biggest laugh of the night came during
the airing of a clip of Jennings on the TV show Politically Incorrect, in which he said, "We don't want to impeach
Clinton. We just want somebody to kick his ass."
Pride came onstage to sing "Good Hearted Woman" and to recall that
Jennings had offered him that song before he himself recorded it. He also flashed a ring that Jennings gave him years ago,
which he still wears.
Pride was followed by Hank Williams Jr. who said that Jennings had been a father figure to him
and took him on the road with him as opening act when Hank Jr. was still a teenager. "When I was 16," he said, "Waylon let
ol' Bocephus go out there. He could have had the pick of anybody he wanted." Williams sang his emotional composition "Eyes
of Waylon" and was interrupted by an audience ovation for the line "the first triple platinum in this town is hanging on his
wall" -- a reference to Jennings' 1979 Greatest Hits album, which became Nashville's first 3 million-selling album
and has since been certified quadruple platinum.
Kristofferson prefaced his version of Jennings' composition "I Do
Believe" by saying, "If I ever thought I would be singing to honor Waylon in the Ryman Auditorium, it might have helped me
through some hard spots." After Nashville songwriter Tom Douglas sang "Nothing Catches Jesus by Surprise," another series
of videos was shown, featuring the video of Jennings' "Wild Ones" and a Kid Rock video in which he sang Jennings' theme song
from the TV show Dukes of Hazzard and paid homage to Jennings.
Among those sending letters and e-mails of condolence
that were read to the crowd were Graham Nash, Kenny Rogers, Paul Simon, Billy Bob Thornton,
Neil Diamond, James Garner, and Metallica lead singer James Hetfield, whose lengthy message was very heartfelt.
latter got a great cheer from the balcony crowd, which was made up of staunch and very vocal Jennings fans. There was more
black leather showing in the balcony than on the stage and the ground floor combined, and there were black cowboy hats up
there galore. One fan T-shirt read "Waylon F-----g Jennings," as he used to introduce himself in shows long ago.
music resumed with David Lee Murphy singing Jennings' 1978 hit "Don't You Think This
Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out of Hand." Texas singers Pat Green and Cory Morrow performed Jennings' 1975 hit song "Are You Sure
Hank Done It This Way" with Green introducing it by remarking, "This is one of those songs I wish I'd written." Then, the
Waymore's Blues Band did a rousing version of "Never Say Die."
Mayfield prefaced Shooter Jennings' performance with
his L.A. band Stargunn by saying, "Jessi said that Waylon wanted Shooter to sing 'I've Always Been Crazy' at his funeral."
And Shooter and his metal band fused very well with his father's Waymore's Blues Band on the song, with Shooter's fiery vocals
and his band's churning metal guitars alternating with lively fiddle and piano and trumpet solos from the Waymore band. "This
may be the changing of the guard," said Mayfield after the song.
Folksy minister and author Will D. Campbell delivered
what he called "the geriatric part of the program" and called Jennings "a renegade, an outlaw, a man of faith and a man of
music ... he was ministering all these years and his ministries go on. We bid him Godspeed with the words of another bard,
'Good night sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.' Amen."
Ray Cyrus then walked onstage with an acoustic guitar to begin "Amazing Grace," on which he was joined first by Tritt
and then by Kristofferson. The song concluded by Cyrus urging the audience to stand and sing along, which became a very rousing
version of the overly familiar anthem.
The service ended with the first public hearing of the last song Jennings recorded
which was played over a darkened stage. "The Dream" is a lovely piano-based ballad comparing life with a dream, which Jennings
concludes by singing "I've had it both ways and the dream could never compare."
Shooter Jennings returned to bid all
a goodnight and to say, "Thank you for coming. We hope you enjoyed yourselves. We sure as hell did."