Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009 Grand Ole Opry Appearances

With 2009 ending, and no more Grand Ole Opry shows for the year, I wanted to take a look back on how many appearances each Opry member made during the past year, and also look at which non-Opry members appeared the most times. During 2009, if I did my math right, there were 199 Opry shows. These include the Friday and Saturday shows, the Tuesday Night Opry, Opry Country Classics, and the Opry matinee that they did during CMA week. It should be no shock to anyone that the Opry member with the most appearances in 2009 was Jimmy Dickens. Even though he missed shows due illness and being in the hospital, the 89 year old Dickens performed at 145 shows this past year. Just an unbelievable number considering everything with him.

As far as everyone else, here is the complete list, in order from most appearances to the least:
145-Jimmy Dickens
121-Mike Snider
108-The Whites
98-Connie Smith
96-Bill Anderson, Jimmy C. Newman
95-Jim Ed Brown
93-Jean Shepard
81-Jeannie Seely
63-Jack Greene, Riders In The Sky
53-Jesse McReynolds
51-John Conlee
47-Bobby Osborne
43-Jan Howard
37-Ricky Skaggs
34-Marty Stuart
32-Vince Gill, Del McCoury
30-George Hamilton IV
27-Stonewall Jackson
20-Hal Ketchum
16-Mel McDaniel, Lorrie Morgan
13-Charlie Daniels, Steve Wariner
12-Charlie Louvin, Pam Tillis
11-Ray Pillow
10-Trace Adkins, Joe Diffie, Craig Morgan, Stu Phillips, Ralph Stanley, Carrie Underwood
9-Diamond Rio, Larry Gatlin, Mel Tillis, Montgomery Gentry
7-Charley Pride, Josh Turner
6-Martina McBride
5-Dierks Bentley, Terri Clark, Alison Krauss
3-Roy Clark, Patty Loveless, Loretta Lynn, Ronnie Milsap, Brad Paisley
2-Billy Grammer, Emmylou Harris, Trisha Yearwood
1-George Jones, Reba McEntire
0-Clint Black, Garth Brooks, Wilma Lee Cooper, Tom T. Hall, Alan Jackson, Barbara Mandrell, Dolly Parton, Jeanne Pruett, Ricky Van Shelton, Randy Travis, Travis Tritt

Some interesting numbers there, especially among some of the newer Opry members. One person that I found interesting was Mike Snider. In 2008, he appeared at the Opry only 20 times, yet he was up to 121 this past year. Also in 2008, Jimmy C. Newman had the most Opry appearances, at 115.

The other number that I find disturbing is that 31 Opry members, almost half of the Opry roster, made 9 or less Opry appearances this past year.

Among non-Opry members, these are the ones who had the most Opry appearances in 2008:
14-Restless Heart
13-Cherryholmes, Mandy Barnett, Emily West
12-Jimmy Wayne
11-Dailey & Vincent, The Grascals
10-Darryl Worley, Rebecca Lynn Howard, Gene Watson
9-Jamie O'Neal, Mark Wills, Rhonda Vincent
8-Chris Young, Point Of Grace
7-Buddy Jewell, Keith Anderson
6-Holly Williams, Aaron Tippin

When you look at those members who are in the top 10 in Opry appearances, 2 are over the age of 80 (Jimmy Dickens and Jimmy C. Newman), and several more are well past 70 (Bill Anderson, Jim Ed Brown, Jack Greene, Jean Shepard). As as been noted in the past, the younger Opry members have got to step up and make regular Opry appearances to keep the show vibrant and moving forward. Of the members with no appearances in 2009, Wilma Lee Cooper is ill, and Barbara Mandrell, Jeanne Pruett and Ricky Van Shelton are retired. As far as the rest, Clint Black last appeared in 2007 with 2 appearances, but before that the last time he was at the Opry was in 2003. Garth Brooks has made 3 appearances since 2000, Tom T. Hall has not been to the Opry in a decade, Dolly Parton has made 4 appearances since 2002 and Randy Travis has appeared just 3 times since 2001. While Reba McEntire made 1 appearance this past year, before that the last time she was on the Opry was in 2000.

Just the opinion of this writer, but if you are not going to be a part of the show, then leave and make room for others. There is just no excuse for joining and to have the prestige of being an Opry member and then not showing up to support the show. Or even worst, to show up for a special event or when the Opry is going to be televised and you are going to be on the tv portion is just wrong. Let's hope that Pete Fisher continues to make wise choices this coming year on new Opry members and to pick those who will be there and support the show. As has been noted in the comments, Opry prices continue to go up, the show is shorter and the line-ups have been pretty weak at times. With over 65 members on the Opry's roster, and only 12-15 artists on each show now, you would think it would be pretty easy to have a quality line-up each week. The fans who are paying the high prices for tickets expect that and I agree.

As always I look forward to comments and opinions.


  1. I stood and applauded your final paragraph. Well put! Also, I think if Jeanne Pruett and Barbara Mandrell say they are through with the business, they should retire from membership. Ricky Van Shelton probably is through, but that isn't clear. Tom T. Hall still performs but always had a spiky relationship with the Opry anyway.

    One of my Christmas presents was Colin Escott's book on the Opry. A great read, but a bit too "authorized" for my taste. That said, there's a quote in there that nobody did more road work than Ernest Tubb, unless it was Little Jimmy Dickens. So his work ethic has survived his health issues. It also quotes Bill Anderson saying that if it's a Saturday night in Nashville and he isn't at the Opry, he feels like he's playing hooky. We need more of that attitude.

    The Mike Snider increase is interesting, and I wonder if he cut back on HIS road work. But I also would note that he usually would do both shows on a Saturday night, while several older artists would be limited to one.

    Also, check out opry.com. The website has been redesigned. I don't like it, but I tend to oppose changing websites! I don't mean that as a warning, Byron.

  2. Byron, when did Travis Tritt last appear? It has been a while.

    Kudos to Vince Gill, Marty Stuart and Ricky Skaggs. To have these people at the Opry 30-40 times in a year is amazing when you consider how much they are in demand.

    We all hope they can find a way to get more appearances out of some of these people. I really have no gripe with those who have at least been at the Opry within the year. I have a hard time understanding, though, why any of these members(unless they are ill or retired) can't at least show up 1 or 2 times in a year.

    I would love to know if Dolly, Clint Black, Travis Tritt and Alan Jackson are regularly asked to appear like on a week-to week, quarterly or some other basis by Opry management and they/their people refuse,have excuses or are completely booked 100% of the time. . .or if the Opry leaves it up to the honor system and waits till the artists and their management calls them.
    It used to be that Opry management called all the members week to week to find their availability and then would fill any remaining slots with guests. I just get the feel it has not been that way for some time.

  3. I remember reading that at the start of every year, Ernest Tubb or his manager would call the Opry manager and list the 26 Saturdays (or more) he would be there. I think the manager used to call around, but I could understand if it's done on the honor system ... except that, if so, it's time for Pete Fisher to call some of these artists and ask them to show some honor.

  4. To answer the question regarding Travis Tritt, his last Opry appearance was Saturday October 20, 2007, when he appeared on both shows that night. That was also the Opry's birthday weekend that year. Those were his only Opry appearances in 2007. He made no appearances in 2008 or 2009. The odd thing with him was that up until 2008, he was usually good for making at least several shows each year since he became a member. I don't know why the change as he is still recording and touring.

    As far as how the artists are asked to appear, I would love to know that also. I know that when Vince Gill, for example, has a free Friday or Saturday night and he feels like playing the Opry, he will call and let them know. Many times he would not make the call until Thursday or even Friday morning, and they would always find room for him. But, I just don't think that Pete Fisher, or anyone at the Opry spends Monday or Tuesday making phone calls to each member or their manager finding out if they are available for the coming weekends shows like it was done in the old days. And, based on the fact that many of the senior members, such as Stu Phillips, Charlie Louvin and Ray Pillow, only appear about once per month, I have a feeling that management tells them early in the year what nights they want them to appear. If you notice, the senior members never usually appear on the same nights, but are spaced out. I also wonder if any Opry members are "on call" and will appear on short notice if someone cancels. I have noticed Ray Pillow as a late addition a couple of times, so I just wonder. I also know that Mandy Barnett and Rebecca Lynn Howard get some last minute calls to fill out the line-up.

    I don't know how much pressure Pete can really put on the stars who do not show up, to actually show up and do the Opry. He is probably at their mercy and jumps for joy when they do appear. For example, if he tries to call Clint Black, he will probably get his agent or manager and they probably tell him, "Don't call us, we'll call you."

  5. I hadn't been to the Opry in years until last month and I couldn't believe the spike in ticket prices. Ouch! Also, I thought that an Opry member had to fulfill a "contract" to appear "x" number of times in one year to maintain Opry member status. Is that true?

  6. Anonymous, Byron can add to this and correct me where I am wrong, but I believe it is in print somewhere that the current artists who become members are being asked to make 10 appearances a year. Likely over the last 10 years since Pete Fisher/Steve Buchanan took over the management of the Opry, this or something approximating this has been the case.

    Members who joined prior to 99 under differing management teams, I believe, joined under varied pretenses. Some were asked to make a "X" number of appearances a year, some were not asked to make much of a committment at all.

    At any rate, they all, at present, are on kind of a "honor system" as there doesn't appear to be any members "held to the fire" if they don't appear regularly, and to my knowledge they don't sign any contracts stating they will do anything.

    Membership in the Opry and the circumstances/conditions surrounding it are kind of shrouded in secrecy, though, so you kind of have to piece things together about what goes on.

  7. You are right on the subject of Opry appearances. Pete Fisher and current management have been asking for a committment from new members to do a set number of shows per year, and I have heard that the number is 10. (I have seen that written in a couple of places and told that by others.) The only thing I am not 100% sure about is if there is a written contract, other than the union contract,(which I have a copy of), or if it is a verbal agreement. And, you are right about the members who joined in the mid to late 80's and the 90's. No real committments were made, although a couple of done a good job at appearing, especially Vince Gill and Marty Stuart.

    The appearance issue again gets to the heart of the problems with the Opry, and mentioned above: high ticket prices and lack of stars appearing. When fans are paying over $50.00 for a prime seat, more is expected. Last week's line-up was a perfect example. On Friday night, 12 artists were on the show. Nothing against any of those performing, but there were no current stars on the show. Same with Saturday night. And, how do you think the fans feel who have bought tickets weeks or months ago to see the show? What is worst, at least from my standpoint, is that the Opry will advertise what stars are scheduled for future shows, and the fans see that in the coming weeks Hank Williams Jr, Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley, Josh Turner and others are scheduled to perform and the fans at Friday's show get Elizabeth Cook, Blaine Larson and others. Then they really feel that they got ripped off and will think twice about coming back.

    Many of us go to multiple shows each year and we are used to having less than steller line-ups. But, the shows are still good. I feel bad for the person who saves their money and can come to only one show every year or so. At $50.00 a ticket, they deserve to see several stars on the show.

  8. What is also odd is that this used to be the time of year when many of the bigger names filled their quota or came close to it because they were off the road most of the winter. I believe Grant Turner said the best shows often had the worst attendance!

    I have been looking at lineups I have collected and that appear in Colin Escott's fascinating book. I couldn't help but notice that the more recent lineups from 1996 and 2004 had a lot more of the members than we normally see now. I understand the cost issues, but Opry appearances don't pay much anyway--they could easily afford to get more of the older members in for a song.

  9. Hi Michael. As to the "appearances not paying much" and they could afford to add more. . . I'm guessing when the Opry went from 2 1/2 to 2 hours shows on Friday and Saturday, eliminating 3-4 members/acts they likely saved several hundred thousand dollars if not a half million or more dollars a year in costs, while at the same time generating just as much revenue in ticket sales(actually more, because they raised the prices the same time they cut the shows.)

    That being said, in my opinion, and I've said this before, they have squeezed about as much blood from this turnip as they can. I think if any further dilution takes place in length of shows, number of artists per show, etc.. . you not only will alienate the remaining hard-core fans, like me, who still buy a lot of tickets and are hanging on despite the changes/cuts, but you risk losing the repeat business of the casual fan too. You have to have the majority of people come away from your product "thinking they got their money's worth."

    It would be interesting to know what % of fans would say that "they got their money's worth" in 2009(12-13 artists on a 2 hr. show at apprx $42-54 a ticket) vs. say five years ago before the drastic cuts, in 2004(when you had 20+ artists a show that was 2 1/2 hours long, and tickets at around $24-44)....

  10. Here is some cost information from the last contract between Gaylord/Grand Ole Opry and The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which represents the Opry members. In this contract, this is what was paid to the various Opry members:

    Solo Performer... $250.78

    Square Dancers(8).$927.80
    Leader............$ 61.80

    Back-Up Singers:
    1st Spot..........$ 54.17
    2nd Spot..........$ 40.92
    1st Spot..........$ 69.47
    2nd Spot..........$ 50.34

    When the Opry was on GAC, this is what the performers were paid in addition to the minimum wages that I listed above:

    Quartet and Square
    Dancers(per group)$856.71

    Back-up singers...$119.93
    Back-up leader....$180.77

    Each Opry live show was allowed to be replayed on GAC 10 times, with the first and second replay paying 75% of the original fee, and then in decreasing numbers each time after that.

    There is also extra pay for the performers that are spotlighted on the syndicated Opry radio program on Westwood One Radio.

    The interesting thing is that this agreement only covers Opry members "whose principal function is that of featured artists or 'stars' of the Grand Ole Opry broadcast: background singers; square dancers and those who appear before the microphone on stage as performers on the Grand Ole Opry broadcast: and only the host of the Grand Ole Opry 'Live' television show, provided that such performer is either a member of the Opry and /or AFTRA, but excluding any and all other performers who are not members of the Grand Ole Opry."

    The way that is worded, it would appear that non-Opry members are not covered by this agreement, which may explain why we see a lot of Mandy Barnett or Rebecca Lynn Howard. I should also note that the numbers listed above are the "minimum wages" paid to the performers. It is common knowledge that "star" performers have been paid more for their appearances, along with guest artists. In Roy Acuff's biography written by Elizabeth Schlappi, she wrote that when Roy returned to the Opry in 1947 after the year away, "Roy found that he would be paid more than union scale for his Opry appearances. From this point on Roy has continued to receive more than union scale for his Opry appearances. This is no secret-all the big stars receive extra money."

  11. I vaguely remember Vic Willis, who was a key cog in the Nashville musicians union throughout his career, saying he had spent 40 years at the Opry and watched his pay go up ten dollars, or something like that. The Opry never has paid well. In the old days, it offered publicity and outreach that couldn't be found elsewhere. Today, it doesn't do that, though the internet does provide an added cachet. That said, either you "get" or care about country music and its history or you don't. Vince and Marty care. Clint doesn't. Brad looks like he does, but he'd better start showing up more often.

    Which brings me to a theory. The Wednesday night show is designed, I bet, to get some of the big names who live in Nashville but can't or won't do weekends where the big money is. I think the more shows there are on weeknights, the more it diminishes the importance of the Saturday night show. But it may actually help the institution. Thoughts?

  12. Byron, thanks so much for posting that. I had a copy of the previous contract that was posted on the Tennessean when the Stonewall Jackson lawsuit was the news of the day. The wages/rates in the current agreement are slightly higher than what I had.

    For clarification, the staff band and the artists backup musicians are covered by the musicians union. . .stage hands, lighting people etc. by another union and so on.

    Although it doesn't sound like a lot when you just add the stars wages, when you put all the people they pay that make the show get on the air for a 30 min segment paying the various union wages it does add up.

    You can see how they saved some money when they chopped off the half hour and went to two hours when you figure $1200-1500 for the stars and backup singers, probably another $1500-2000 for the bands/Opry staff band and the savings on ushers/lighting/sound etc. I was figuring above in my earlier post, conservatively $5000 * 2 cut 30 min segments on Fri and Sat x 52 weeks =
    $ 520,000.

    Also, I would think the way the agreement is worded that if Mandy Barnett or a Rebecca Lynn Howard is a member of AFTRA they would also be paid the same wages as above as they would qualify as "those who appear before the microphone on stage as performers on the Grand Ole Opry broadcast," but I don't know this for sure.

    I would think this contract would govern any artist who is a member of AFTRA and who performs on the Opry. It says: "provided that such performer is either a member of the Opry and /or AFTRA, but excluding any and all other performers who are not members of the Grand Ole Opry."

    I would take this to mean that if the performer, guest or member, is a member of AFTRA he/she is covered under the agreement. However performers who are not AFTRA are not covered unless they are non-AFTRA members of the Opry. Again, I could be reading this wrong because it is worded in contract talk and I have no inside knowledge.

    I had always heard that too about some bigger-name members being paid more and that these are the minimum rates. Although it may be "no secret" that this happens, I'd bet that is a secretive thing as to who gets more and how much.

    I always found the way the performers and the people at the Opry are paid(by the segments/spots) a facinating thing, unique to the Opry because it is a radio show. People who I have invited to go with me to the Opry over the years find this facinating too.

    One thing that I would love to see management do is have the Square Dancers on all the Opry shows as I think it would add tremendous entertainment value and visual excitement to the Friday and Tuesday Night shows. But, it becomes obvious from looking at the wage rates above, why the Dancers have rarely been featured on a night other than Saturday.

  13. As one who has been attending the Opry for many, many years, the one thing I have noticed is the increase in the number of people working during the Opry shows. In addition to the on-stage performers, there seems to be lots more security people working, they have increased the staffing at the concession stands, they build the new Opry shop and have increased staffing there, and the Opry ticket office was expanded several years ago with more people working.Then you have the technicians working the video and sound, and there seem to be more of those people. Also, it would appear on-stage that there are more individuals involved with the show than there used to be.

    Regarding the performers cost per segment, I am sure all of you remember a few years back when the Opry cut back on the members in the Opry staff band and also ordered a number of performers to use the staff band while performing instead of their own bands. I know Jack Greene had to cut back to just one band member, and Jimmy C. Newman and Charlie Louvin had to cut back some. Jan Howard, Stu Phillips, Ray Pillow all use only the staff band. Jim Ed Brown was told to cut back on his band, and I think he basically refused, saying he would cut back on his own spots first.

    Other performers are still allowed to use their band. John Conlee, Bill Anderson, Connie Smith, and even The Whites have their own band. I am not sure how the decision was made and what performers were targeted, but I am sure cost was the bottom line and they probably picked the performers based on their sound, how much they toured and how much their back-up bands were identified with them. Even at the end of his career, they still introduced Porter Wagoner and his Wagonmasters, even through he did not tour, and some of the Wagonmasters changed each week.

    Regarding the extra pay, I just have this funny thought in my head of Peter Fisher calling Clint Black and asking him to come to the Opry, and Pete saying that he'll throw in an extra hundred dollars if he'll come.

    Finally, with the mid-week shows, I would love to get hold of some attendance numbers. I know that when Carrie Underwood is there, for example, or Rascal Flatts, it is usually a sell-out. But on other nights, there are plenty of seats available. I attended a couple of the Opry Classics shows during the past year, and the house was no more than half full for either show. I agree that they are trying to catch the performers mid-week when they tend to be in town, but I also think they are trying to get the convention business that comes to down during the middle of the week, and also with the out of town people who come to Opry Mills during the week to shop, an opportunity to see some entertainment.

    I am ok with the mid-week shows as long as they do not change the format of the Friday and Saturday night shows to make those shows like the mid-week shows. That means no intermission and no 15 minute per performer slots. I like the format and variety of the Friday and Saturday night shows, with hosts and defined segments.

    Of course, with Gaylord, the bottom line is everything, and I am sure pretty much everything they are doing, from increasing the number of shows and decreasing the length of shows, is done to increase the bottom line.

  14. The thing to remember with the appearances in 2009 was that there were 199 shows Opry shows. Just for a comparison, I went back to the year 1968. These are the appearances that the Opry members made that year on Saturday night only. Just some interesting numbers to look at and compare. I will say that I did this pretty quick, so if it might be off by 1 or 2.

    46-The Four Guys
    40-Roy Acuff
    37-Del Wood
    35-Vic Willis Trio
    32-Cousin Jody
    31-Stu Phillips
    30-Ernie Ashworth
    29-Archie Campbell
    25-Wilma Lee Cooper, Margie Bowes
    23-Carlisles, Charlie Walker
    22-Bobby Lord, Marty Robbins
    21-Charlie Louvin, Dottie West
    20-Billy Grammer, Lonzo & Oscar, Ray Pillow, Hank Snow, Billy Walker,Flatt & Scruggs
    19-Bill Monroe, Jeannie Seely, Ernest Tubb
    17-Jim & Jesse
    16-Jim Ed Brown, Grandpa Jones, Bob Luman, Loretta Lynn, Tex Ritter
    15-Bill Anderson, Osborne Brothers, Justin Tubb, Marion Worth
    14-George Morgan, Porter Wagoner
    13-Skeeter Davis, Jack Greene, Hank Locklin, Norma Jean
    12-Roy Drusky
    11-Del Reeves
    10-George Hamilton IV
    8-Jean Shepard
    7-Wilburn Brothers
    1-Minnie Pearl
    0-Jimmy C. Newman

    Just some interesting numbers there. I don't know why Minnie Pearl only had 1 appearance, especially as closely related she is to the Opry, and I don't know why Jimmy C. Newman was at none. You will also notice no appearances for Jimmy Dickens as this was the time period that he was gone from the Opry. Stonewall Jackson and Connie Smith also had no appearances, and I think that was also the time period that they were both gone from the Opry. I know in Connie's case, she basically retired from the business for a couple of years to raise her family. For what it's worth, Stonewall and Jimmy C. did make a couple of appearances the next year, Connie not until 1971, and Minnie was still only at 1 show the next year.

  15. Jimmy C. never gave up his membership, so he may have gone mainly with the Friday Night Opry. I don't know. Stonewall had left in the "purge" of 1964 but supposedly was coming back. Connie had indeed quit, so her absence is understandable. That year was about the time Minnie Pearl quit the road--she told the story of Henry, her husband, barely avoiding a crash as he flew her to an appearance.

  16. I should add, I understand that the Opry can't be run as a big money loser. I also understand why acts that no longer tour--Jimmy C., for example--would not need a band, or would need Bessyl Duhon since he obviously needs a Cajun accordion. But we have come a long way from the days when Mr. Acuff was away and The Smoky Mountain Boys would perform, or the criticism when he died and Hal Durham allowed Oswald and Charlie to keep performing but did not keep the original band together.