‘We’re Back, Nashville!': Eric Church, Larkin Poe + More Tribute ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons at the Grand Ole Opry
"Zoom just doesn't cut it."
Even if you were masked (now "welcome, not required" at the Grand Ole Opry House, as signs outside the historic Nashville venue inform concertgoers) during Sunday night's (May 16) tribute to ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, those words from the show's bandleader and musical director Martin Guigui rang true. Seeing live music in person with other fans on the same weekend COVID-19-imposed mask mandates, capacity limits and other restrictions lifted in Nashville made for an emotional moment.
It was all the moreso because the two-hour event featured not only Gibbons and Guigui's ace band, but also a parade of stars from Eric Church and Lucinda Williams to Larkin Poe and Tim Montana. Everyone was there to honor Gibbons, guitarist and primary vocalist for ZZ Top, the Houston, Texas-bred blues-rockers known for hits including "Sharp Dressed Man," "Legs" and more.
As Opry announcer and show house Bill Cody explained at the start of the show — taped for a later television broadcast and film release — Gibbons was being honored for "50 years of music, entertainment and philanthropy." The event was part of the America Salutes You series, which raises money for military-, veterans- and first responders-focused charities, including Nashville's Creativets.
It was actor Dennis Quaid who officially presented Gibbons with a statue recognizing his achievements, talking up the artist's music and noting to the crowd, "You've got a great heart, that's for sure." The pair marked the moment with raucous renditions of Jerry Lee Lewis' "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "Great Balls of Fire" because, as Quaid told Gibbons, nodding to Lewis' nickname, "You're a killer, too."
Gibbons was onstage throughout much of the evening, opening the show with Montana, a close friend, by performing their song "This Beard Came Here to Party," going toe-to-toe with blues guitarist Jimmie Vaughan and leading the night's whole cast in a lengthy jam on ZZ Top's 1973 hit "La Grange." Read on for some highlights:
Eric Church Brings His Signature Flair to "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide"
Church's performance was the last of the evening, and while fans had shown their love for Gibbons and his home state throughout the night, they hollered plenty for the Chief, too. Church delivered a version of 1979's "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide" that was equal parts homage and original, injecting some of his emphatic vocal flourishes and scatting along with the bassist at the song's end.
Lucinda Williams Gets Back Onstage
Williams canceled a recent set at Florida's Mile 0 Fest, ad she suffered a stroke in November and has been in therapy and rehabilitation to continue her recovery, but she got back onstage on Sunday night for Gibbons. She can't yet play guitar again, but her version of 1973's "Jesus Just Left Chicago" was perfectly world-weary, and she got plenty of love from the crowd as she made her way on and offstage.
Chris Janson Slays "Tush"
Nobody brings the energy quite like Chris Janson — as emcee Cody offered with a smile in his voice, "He doesn't really entertain you as much as he attacks you." Janson began his cover of 1975's "Tush" on electric guitar, countrying up the song's grit with his vocals, but by the end, he was going wild on harmonica, bouncing around stage and egging on the crowd to show their appreciation.
"We're back, Nashville!" Jason sang at the song's end, once again pointing his microphone toward the crowd with an incredible flourish.
Larkin Poe Dazzle With "Sharp" Guitarwork
Sister duo Larkin Poe pulled triple duty on Sunday night: After performing "Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde" with Travis Tritt, they joined Gibbons for "Sharp Dressed Man," one of ZZ Top's signature songs, trading lines, harmonizing and shooting riffs back at the rock legend.
LP's Megan and Rebecca Lovell also got some well-deserved time in the spotlight during the show-closing all-cast jam. Gibbons looked rightfully impressed as they solo'd on electric and steel guitar.
Billy Gibbons Trades His Guitar Pick for Drumsticks
Gibbons is, of course, known for his guitar skills, but even he knows when to lay it down and let someone else do the work.
"And that, right there, folks, is why I'm gonna start playing drums," Gibbons told the crowd after a performance with respected Nashville-based guitarist Guthrie Trapp. As Trapp's fingers flew across the fretboard, Gibbons kept the beat on a snare drum, decorated and sent to Nashville for the occasion by Houston's Hendrix Drums.
See More Photos From the America Salutes You Billy Gibbons Tribute Concert: