When George Jones died on April 26, he also got a pass into an exclusive club: that small handful of famous performers whose final concerts happened in Knoxville. It might not have been how Jones intended to end his career, but it puts him in good company, and connects him with a couple of artists he might otherwise never be mentioned in the same sentence with.
Jones, who was already on what he'd said was his final tour, performed at the Knoxville Coliseum on April 6. His next scheduled show was in Atlanta on April 19, but he was hospitalized in Nashville on April 18.
The other official members of the last-concert-in-Knoxville club are the Russian composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff, whose 1943 concert at the University of Tennessee was his last, and Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Randy Rhoads, who died in a plane crash in Florida in 1982, the day after playing at the Knoxville Coliseum.
You might consider Hank Williams an honorary member of the club, even though his last show wasn't here; he was passing through Knoxville on his way to a concert in West Virginia and likely died somewhere on the road between here and there, though some people guess that he died during a stopover at the Andrew Johnson Hotel. No one seems to know for certain, but it's close enough to earn him some mention—let's note it with an asterisk.
There's no reason to think there's a Knoxville curse, of course—it's taken 70 years to get three members in the club—or any special significance to Knoxville as an onstage farewell to your fans. Music followers in bigger cities, where the body count is likely to be much higher, probably don't even bother to total them. And maybe other cities comparable to Knoxville keep their own tallies but we never hear about them. Where was Jimi Hendrix's last show? Kurt Cobain's? Amy Winehouse's? Still, it's a notable and weird triangulation, and one that Knoxvillians don't ever seem to get tired of talking about.
Jones' Grand Tour, named after one of his signature hits, was supposed to last through most of 2013, ending up with a final show at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena on Nov. 22 with an all-star lineup of special guests. That show will go on as a tribute to Jones, his management announced this week. Garth Brooks, Kid Rock, Travis Tritt, the Oak Ridge Boys, Montgomery Gentry, Charlie Daniels, and Jamey Johnson, among others, are expected to perform. Tickets were already sold out before Jones died.