Carrie Underwood and Vince Gill weren’t the only stars who literally sang the praises of the late Jimmy Dickens Thursday afternoon, during a memorial service held at the Grand Ole Opry house. Brad Paisley, Dickens’ fishing buddy and longtime friend, pulled double-duty as host and performer, setting the tone for an evening that celebrated the larger-than-life personality of the 4’11” country legend by rattling off a string of anecdotes veering between humorous and poignant. He also strummed his way through a solo version of “Where I Get Where I’m Going,” his 2005 hit about finding peace and closure — rather than fear — in death.
“His mark will be left on this place forever, as long as the Grand Ole Opry… is here,” Paisley said by way of introduction, standing beside three belongings that seemed to accompany Dickens wherever he went: a cowboy hat, a pair of white leather boots and an acoustic guitar. “His memory is intact. He’s as important as anyone’s ever been to this [tradition of country music].”
Throughout the memorial, a handful of musically-inclined friends took the stage to perform some of Dickens’ own songs, with Chris Young singing “No Tears in Heaven,” Steve Wariner tackling “Country Boy” and Bobby Tomberlin performing “Little Love Story.” Despite the somber occasion, most of the performers focused not on the sadness of Dickens’ death, but the humor and music that filled his 94 living years.
“He was exactly the size he needed to be,” Paisley said at one point, adding, “And I, for one, don’t want to live in a world of Big Jim Dickens.”