Monday, October 12, 2009

Review & Recap of the Grand Ole Opry's 84th Birthday Weekend

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Grand Ole Opry's 84th Birthday Bash. It was a great weekend of shows and I also had the good fortune to have my wife attend the shows with me. I add that note because while I attend at least 10 Opry shows each year, and some years many more, she only attends the Opry about once every 5 years, so she can give me a different perspective on what is seen. Also, she is not your 'classic' country music fan. In fact, she is what would be classified as a "deadhead", following the Grateful Dead. But, she does know country music and her opinion is valid.

The weekend started with us attending the Opry Country Classics show at the Ryman Auditorium. I was anxious to attend the Opry Country Classics because I had not attended any of the shows since they started and was interested in how they went when seeing the show live instead of listening to the show on the radio. And, I will tell you that I really enjoyed the show and thought that it was very well presented. When you come into the Ryman, the curtain is open with the backdrop that they have used at the Ryman for the past several years. They had the Minnie Pearl impersonator doing the pre-show announcements, just like before the Opry shows. Eddie Stubbs did the introduction and then introduced Storme Warren, from GAC-TV, as the host for the night. Storme introduced all of the acts and then would defer to Eddie, who handled the commercials. Storme did an excellent job as the host and added a lot of enthusiasm to the show. I could see him as an Opry announcer. He gave high praise to the acts that he introduced and noted their career achievements. The show opened with Mandy Barnett, who did Ernest Tubb's "Walk-In The Floor Over You". She was followed on stage by Jeannie Seely, who did 2 songs, with her honoring Dottie West with the 2nd number. She was followed by George Hamilton IV for one number and Jan Howard for her classic, "Evil On Your Mind". Also performing was new artist Sunny Sweeney, who did several Loretta Lynn numbers and Jim Lauderdale, who honored George Jones. Jack Greene then did his classic numbers, "There Goes My Everything" and "Statue Of A Fool". There was a 15 minute intermission, during which several classic country songs were played. After the intermission, the Opry Square Dancers came out. There were only 4 of the square dancers, instead of the usual 8, and then Mandy Barnett came back on to do several Patsy Cline songs and a Don Gibson number. The show finished with the Del McCoury Band doing Roy Acuff's "Wabash Cannonball", and then several Bill Monroe numbers. After the last song by Del McCoury, they played "Rawhide", and while the song was on, the curtin was pulled close as Eddie gave the closing announcements.

Like I said, the show had a very good flow to it, with the newer acts mixed in with the veteran acts. As far as the attendance, I would say that the Ryman was about two-thirds filled, mostly senior citizens. The crowd was very enthusiastic, with Jack Greene receiving the greatest response. The intermission did seem out of place, and with the limited restrooms at the Ryman, was really too short. I would just rather see them do away with the intermission. Also at times, it seemed as if the commercials were out of place, as in one sequence they had 3 in a row after only 1 song. The only down note was that Hal Ketchum was advertised to be on the show and was listed in the program, but was not there. One last note: for those of you who have been at the Ryman before, you will know that for years they had display cases in the back that were filled with different items and the displays had not been changed for years. The finally updated them. Along the back walls, there are displays to honor the Opry in the 40's, 50's and 60's, including items from Stringbean, Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, Connie Smith, Lester Flatt, Marty Stuart and others. The last big display is in relation to the Johnny Cash television show, that was filmed at the Ryman, and the display features items from Johnny Cash and June Carter. The little cases behind the back row of seats have also been updated, with one of the displays highlighting Skeeter Davis. It included a mention that Skeeter was one of the outspoken members of the Opry and at one time was banned for a year because of comments that she made on stage. Items from Grandpa Jones, Pee Wee King, Marty Robbins and a couple of others were also on display in the cases. A very nice update to the auditorium. All-in-all, I thought the show was great and exceeded by expectations.

On Friday, I attended the Friday Night Opry at the Grand Ole Opry house. While the Saturday shows were very good, I would have to say in my opinion, the Friday show was the better of the two. The line-up was great and all the entertainers were very good. I was anxious to see Jimmy Dickens, as over the past several months he has not sounded very good and there have been health problems. But, I was suprised as he looked great and sounded much better than what I thought he would. As you would expect, Josh Turner and Montgomery Gentry received the biggest reactions from the audience. The Opry House was at least 90% full, with only the upper corners having available seats. Patty Loveless was signing copies of her new CD in the Opry Shop before the show. As for Saturday night, again the Opry House was over 90% full for the first show and I thought it was a good show. The crowd for the 2nd show was not as large, and that show was fine also. Jimmy Dickens did have some trouble hitting a few of the notes during his songs and the radio host, Delilah was the special guest announcer. She was slightly embarassed as she was reading from the wrong spot on her script, and was ready to introduce Mike Snider as Diamond Rio, but she handled it well. Kathy Mattea was outstanding as was Lorrie Morgan. The first segment hosted by Jimmy Dickens ran about 10 minutes over, so they played catch up for the rest of the night. The 2nd show started about 7 minutes late, but finished up on time. Stu Phillips made one of his rare Opry appearances on the 2nd show and sang great. Jim Ed Brown was also very good as was Joe Diffie. And of course, they rolled out the birthday cake for all 3 shows over the weekend. Nobody pulled it out on Friday night, except for a couple of the stage hands. On Saturday night, Jimmy Dickens and Diamond Rio did the honors. Also, Diamond Rio was in the Opry Museum signing copies of their new book and CD before the show.

Just for the heck of it, I did some timing during the first show. The actual show lasts 2 hours, or in the case of this Saturday night, 2 hours and 10 minutes. For that show, there were 13 artists listed and they all appeared. The 13 artists played a total of 19 songs. With an average of 3 minutes per song, that comes out to about 57 minutes of actual entertainment for a show that lasted about 130 minutes. Add that to the fact that the top ticket is $53 and going up next year, it is no wonder why attendence is down at the Opry. Or another case in point: Would anyone pay $53 to see any of those artists in concert? Maybe some for Montgomery Gentry. But, the line-ups have got to be stronger each week to justify the price of the tickets. By the way, during the 2nd show on Saturday night, the 12 artists played a total of 18 songs; even less than on the 1st show.

All references to GAC-TV have been removed from the Opry house. Also, in case you missed it, Cracker Barrel is no longer the presenting sponsor of the Opry, but has been replaced by Humana. Cracker Barrel is still listed as a "Proud Sponsor" along with US Bank, Bass Pro Shop, and Dollar General. The other Opry sponsor is Martha White. I would like to see one change at the Opry House. Along the back wall in the outer hallways, they have several pictures of Opry stars, with Opry induction dates listed as well as Hall of Fame dates listed. Those include Roy Acuff, Patsy Cline, Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb, George Hay, Bill Monroe and a couple of others. If you are familiar with the Opry House, these are older, black and white photos. I would like to see these updated to include any former member of the Opry who is also a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. There is space to add, perhaps Porter Wagoner, Bill Carlisle and a few others. They have done a nice job of honoring the past at the Opry House, I would just like to see them do a few more things.

Finally, I visited the Opry Museum as always. Last year, they updated the exhibits(finally), with a history of the Opry and some classic photos. But, it is time to update again. Some of the exhibits are looking very old and have been in place for many, many years. There is a story to tell about the Opry and the museum is the perfect place to do it. The same displays honoring Marty Robbins, Jim Reeves, Jimmy Dickens, Roy Acuff, Tex Ritter, Minnie Pearl and Patsy Cline have been up forever. The last change they made was removing the Hank Snow exhibit after he died. Keep the exhibits up, just reduce the size and add a few more. There are so many stars that could be honored. Just personally: they keep honoring Jim Reeves with a nice size exhibit, but he was an Opry member for such a short amount of time, and he had even quit the Opry. I would also love to see more of the video screens, showing classic Opry highlights. They have such a great vault of film that they could show.

That was a recap of the weekend. I have more to share, which I will do in future updates. My next trip is planned in December and then the usual trips in February, April and June.


  1. What a great roundup, and what a great time you must have had. And I understand ... my wife was not in the least bit interested in country music, but has learned to like some of it. We can convert anyone!

    I have noticed, too, the drop in the number of songs. I also think part of it is that older songs tended to be shorter, maybe two minutes. If you look at old lineups, there almost always were eight songs in a 30-minute segment, and that number has gradually dropped. Over the years, the songs have gotten longer.

    Glad to hear that The Potato (Hank Snow called Little Jimmy that, so I feel that I have to) looked fine. Yes, he doesn't hit the notes like he used to, but he makes me think of Roy Acuff: even when his singing voice was declining, he knew how, in Mr. Acuff's words, to sell a song.

    I also think the more they can emphasize the Opry's history, the better. That brings me to the Thursday night show, which I try to listen to when I can. I don't mind the idea of having new stars do more songs of old-timers--some of the top younger artists do covers on their CDs. It might be a way to get younger fans in without corrupting how the Opry functions.

  2. As always Mike, thanks for the comments. Regarding the drop in the number of songs, I also want to add that the artists seem to be doing more talking between songs, or in the case of a few, telling jokes. Some are funny, such as those from Jimmy Dickens, Mike Snider and Jean Shepard. Some not so... But it takes time away from the music.

  3. You are right about the talking between songs, and, yes, some of them actually have nothing to say! Funny thing is, if you listen to those old Opry broadcasts, the announcers did a lot more introducing back then, and singers got to talk a lot less. In some cases, that was a much better idea!