Mark Humphrey/AP
Nancy Kruh
September 15, 2017 06:16 PM

How many times had Troy Gentry and Eddie Montgomery shared the stage at the Grand Ole Opry House?

Not this time. Now, a metallic casket holding Gentry’s remains held a stark and bracing presence, solo, at center stage. Montgomery’s only official role at the funeral service on Thursday was to be one of the casket’s nine pallbearers.

The 1,500 family, friends and fans who gathered at the Opry House had come to mourn Gentry, but who couldn’t help but wonder: What will Eddie Montgomery do now?

So far, the 53-year-old singer has remained silent, making no public statements or posting on his Twitter or Facebook accounts. But his presence on Thursday still answered the question: What he’s doing now is grieving, deeply.

He entered the Opry House from a side door, grim-faced and holding the hand of his wife, Jennifer. He wore his trademark bolero hat, a black suit with black-sequined shoulders, and like several other close friends and family members, a bowtie featuring the Batman insignia, evoking Gentry’s favorite superhero.

Montgomery hardly walked a few paces before he was engulfed in embraces, one after another after another, before he and his wife made their way to a second-row pew. Moments later, Keith Urban entered from the same side door and made a beeline for Montgomery. The two men clutched each other for several moments, both wiping tears from their eyes as they parted.

During the service, Montgomery sat, mostly stoic, as he listened to testimonies about his partner’s generosity, his good humor, his love of life. He kept a tissue in his hand, dabbing away the tears that occasionally fell on his cheeks.

When the country duo Halfway to Hazard came on stage to perform “My Old Kentucky Home” — the state’s official anthem — Montgomery followed the lead of Gentry’s wife, Angie, and stood, doffing his hat. Both Montgomery and Gentry were born in the Bluegrass State; this was a show of respect. The rest of the congregation quickly followed suit.

Then, a few bars into the song, Angie Gentry left her place in the first pew and went to Montgomery’s side, and the two shared the moment together, his hand placed gently at her waist.

The tributes during the 80-minute service were notable for their focus on Gentry’s private life, but then, his larger-than-life career tended to speak for itself. Two men who spoke, however, pointedly delivered messages to Montgomery.

“Eddie, he loved being on stage with you,” said Gentry’s pastor, Dr. Michael I. Glenn. “The highlight of his life was when that spotlight would come on and you two would take the stage. You two had very different styles, but when you sang together, it was some kind of magic.”

Montgomery wept at the words, and he wept again when Vince Gill implored him, “Don’t disappear.”

The fellow Opry member ticked off a number of country duos that had ended through illness or retirement. But the one he failed to mention has perhaps the greatest relevance — the groundbreaking duo Johnnie & Jack, which abruptly ended in 1963 when Jack Anglin was killed in a one-car accident. He was on his way to the memorial service of Patsy Cline, who had been killed in a plane crash just two days before.

Anglin’s partner, Johnnie Wright, got the news right after the service, and fellow Opry member Bill Anderson recalled seeing Wright “walking on the little porch outside the funeral home, just bawling like a baby,” according to an account in The Tennessean. After a period of mourning, Wright, who was 48 at the time, went on to forge a solo career.

What will Eddie Montgomery do now? As Glenn announced from the stage on Thursday, there is still one more Montgomery Gentry album left to promote. Its release is expected in the coming months. There is still that unfinished business.

In the meantime, no doubt Montgomery will continue to grieve.

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