Now that the first series of shows in the Opry Country Classics series is done, I wanted to review the Thursday night shows and offer some opinion on how the show has turned out. First, I wanted to go back to the press release from the Opry that announced the show:
"Beginning March 26, Nashville will have a new entertainment option on Thursday nights when the Grand Ole Opry adds Opry Country Classics to its current line-up of Tuesday, Friday and Saturday performances. The all-new addition to the Opry's schedule will shine a spotlight on the classic country songs that have defined country music for generations of fans. Opry Country Classics will share country music's colorful story through a live performance featuring country favorites performed by legends of the genre as well as talented new artists, a rousing live band, square dancing, and more. Like current Opry broadcasts, the show will be heard on 650 WSM-AM."
To review, there were 13 shows in the current series, that will return on September 10th. Larry Gatlin hosted 8 shows; Marty Stuart and Jeannie Seely 2 each and John Conlee once. Of the hosts, I would say that Larry Gatlin was by far the strongest and best suited for the role. With his former television and stage experience, he was a natural at introducing the acts and in sharing the spotlight with those artists. He is scheduled to host several shows in the next series. Beginning with the 2nd show, a "spotlight artist" was featured, who was considered the featured performer on the show, and sang up to a 30 minutes. Of the 13 shows, 9 had these featured artists. These artists were Vince Gill, Josh Turner, Bill Anderson, Charley Pride, Mel Tillis, Ricky Skaggs, Charlie Daniels, Tanya Tucker and Steve Wariner. All but Tanya Tucker are Opry members. Beginning with the 6th show, each show featured a theme and the songs sang by the artists, or the artists themselves, reflected that theme. For example, on the show that featured families in country music, the artists included people such as The Whites, Holly Williams and the Gatlin Brothers.
The number of artists per show were from 5, at the final show, up to 9. There were a total of 92 acts during these 13 shows, of which 42 were Opry members and 50 were not. Several of the shows featured only 1 Opry member. Of course, in the original press release, even though the show is called Opry Country Classics, no where does it mention that it will feature Grand Ole Opry members. Of the Opry members who performed on the show, in addition to the hosts, they included Charlie Louvin(2 times); Bobby Osborne; Riders In The Sky(2 times); Jimmy C. Newman; Jean Shepard; Jimmy Dickens; Jan Howard; Jesse McReynolds; Lorrie Morgan(2 times); George Hamilton IV(2 times); Ray Pillow; The Whites; The Gatlin Brothers(3 times); Jim Ed Brown(2 times); Mel McDaniel; Del McCoury Band; Stu Phillips; and Loretta Lynn.
The show was a work in progress. Each week, there seemed to be some tinkering with the show, and by the final show, they seemed to have the formula down. The host would be introduced and he would introduce the 1st series of artists. They would generally perform 1 song, perhaps 2. If they sang just one song, it would reflect the theme of the show. If an artist did 2 songs, 1 would be one of the artist's hit record and the 2nd song would reflect the theme of the show. There was an intermission during the show, at which time classic country music was played and videos shown, by the original artists. The show would finish up with the spotlight artist performing from 15 to 30 minutes. All of this resulted in a 2 hour show. Some of the line-ups were very strong, such as during the 1st week, and the show featuring the ladies of country music. Some shows had line-ups that were filled with a lot of opening acts. Some shows held to the theme very well. For example, during the show that honored Chet Atkins, all of the artists on the show had a connection to him. Same with the show that featured the theme of the State of Texas. However, a couple of the shows missed the target. The show that had the theme of the Country Music Hall of Fame, only had 2 Hall of Fame artists on the show(Charlie Louvin and Charlie McCoy). This would have been a great opportunity to have featured several of the Hall of Famers. What would the majority of the fans have wanted: George Jones singing one of his classic songs or Jim Lauderdale doing it? With the number of classic Hall of Fame members, this could have been one of the great shows during this series.
It was hard to get a true reading on the attendance and the paid crowd. Several of the shows, including the 1st show, were very well attended. For the final show last week, the day before the show I checked availability with the Opry ticket office, and was offered a ticket in the 4th row, and was told by the representative that plenty of tickets were available. I also know, that there were many price discount promotions offered, including a show that offered tickets for $6.50(from WSM), to package deals that basically offered you a ticket to the Opry Country Classics for as low as $10.00 if you bought a ticket to a Friday or Saturday Opry show. I also know that lots of tickets were given away on radio station and sponsor promotions.
From a fans standpoint, listening to the show on the radio, it was very entertaining. The song selection was very good, overall, and almost all of the newer artists sang songs that others had made famous.
When the show was first announced, I know from many fans on the classic country music comment boards, that the concern was many of the older artists would be pushed off the Friday and Saturday Grand Ole Opry shows and instead be placed on the Thursday night classic show. While several of the Opry legends did make an appearance on the classic show, it would appear that it did not affect their regular Opry appearances, as little as they might be. Of the veteran artists, Jimmy Dickens, Bill Anderson, Charley Pride, Mel Tillis, Loretta Lynn, Charlie Louvin, George Hamilton IV, Jeannie Seely, Jean Shepard, Ray Pillow, Stu Phillips, Jim Ed Brown, Jimmy C. Newman and Jack Greene made Thursday appearances, and most of them only appeared 1 time. I, for one, figured that when the shows were 1st announced, that someone like Jimmy Dickens would have been on all the shows, especially considering that he does almost every Opry show(much like Roy Acuff used to do).
We'll, considering everything, did Opry Country Classics do what it was advertised to do? At the beginning, they said this would be a live performance featuring country favorites performed by legends of the genre as well as talented new artists. On that first point, they did do what was advertised. There was a mix of legends and new artists. They advertised a rousing live band.The Opry staff band is a good one and performed at every show. There was square dancing at every show. As far as the "more": they did have a theme per show and a featured artist. So, all things considered, the Opry Country Classics did offer what was originally advertised.
How about for the future. The 2nd series of shows goes from September 10-October 29. I see on the Opry website, that those shows are offering appearances by George Jones and Ray Price, among others. And, Larry Gatlin is back to host. I did like the format of the show by the time they got to the last week. If the show is going to continue to have a theme with each one, I would try to book more artists that have a direct relationship to the theme. The mix of legends and new artists is fine, although just from a ticket standpoint, each show needs to have at least a couple of big names on the line-up. People are not going to pay a high dollar amount per ticket to see several new artists singing songs of others and then a headliner. Finally, I would place each of the shows at the Ryman Auditorium instead of the Opry house. The smaller capacity of the Ryman, and the legendary feel to it, would be more in line with the classic theme of the show. The one drawback is that lack of a video system in the Ryman. During the classic show at the Opry House, they make great use of the video system to offer biographies of the stars being spotlighted. But, I am sure something could be set up at the Ryman.
All in all, I think it was a good attempt and I would hope that the Opry management will continue to work on the show and bring it back next year.