Even before he said a word or sang a note, the singer-songwriter – whose life and career is also captured in the museum's current exhibit Alan Jackson: 25 Years of Keepin' It Country – was welcomed with a standing ovation from the audience in the intimate CMA Theater.
With a grin, he said, "Well, thank you, it's mighty nice of y'all to come tonight. It's Wednesday night, aren't y'all supposed to be in church?"
For the next two hours and 26 minutes, it was the church of traditional country music preached by the Hall of Fame and Museum's 12th artist-in-residence, who came to Nashville from Newnan, Georgia, almost 30 years ago with wife Denise. Looking toward her seat in the mezzanine, he said, "Please put a spotlight on my wife. Denise, if I'm talking too much, tell me."
To the delight of the audience, she let her husband of nearly 35 years talk on and on. He remembered the first song he wrote in Nashville, "Home." "Denise and I didn't have a dime when we came here in 1985," he said. "She was working and I wasn't. We were living in a basement apartment on Donelson Pike. It was the first time I had lived away from Newnan and we didn't know anybody. I was homesick and missing my mama. This is the first song I wrote in Nashville and I wrote it for her. It's a true story. My mama is 84 and she still lives there in that house."
He also remembered his late father, Eugene, with the story behind "Drive." "It's hard to believe it's been 12 years since I wrote this song. I was going through a hard time when I lost my daddy. I wanted to write a song for him, but I didn't want it to be a crying, dying song. He was always driving something so I wrote this for him."
His introduction to "Remember When" was a poignant nod to the challenges and joys of marriage: "There is a lot of personal stuff in these lyrics. This is a sweet song that means a lot to me."
He told the story behind his first No. 1 song, "Here in the Real World." "This was my first hit but it wasn't my first single," Jackson said. "We were so excited when I got my big record contract and we sent the first single out to country radio. They didn't like it and they sent it right back. I was so bummed. I came home, all down, and Denise somehow got pregnant. I was scared. I thought, 'Oh no, I'll have to go back to work!' Then this song came out and it was my first no. 1 and I haven't worked since."
Reflecting back on a quarter-century of making music, Jackson also looked ahead, giving the audience a preview of what's next.
"How about something brand new that you've never heard? That's easier for us because if I mess up you won't know," he joked. This song ["Angels and Alcohol"] was written by my nephew and it's a bit of a downer, but I like it. Sad songs are easier to write than happy songs. I promise the whole album won't be like this. But it will be country."
As if there was ever any doubt.