Monday, October 11, 2010

Grand Ole Opry Birthday Weekend Wrap-Up & Observations

I spent this last weekend in Nashville for the Grand Ole Opry's 85th birthday celebration. First, before I give my observations and recap of the weekend, I want to say how happy I was to meet several of my readers and I thank them for the visit. I always enjoy talking Grand Ole Opry with people who have the same views regarding the show as I do. I appreciate all of you reading my blog and I hope you continue to do so, and please tell your friends and leave your comments. I enjoy reading them and responding to them. And, I take no offense at anything left.

Now for the birthday weekend. I attended the Opry Country Classics show at the Ryman Auditorium on Thursday night. Overall, it was a very good show. The host was Bill Cody, the morning man on WSM radio and he did a great job, keeping the show moving along. Eddie Stubbs was the announcer and introduced the show and handled the commercials. Wade Hayes was the first artist and if you remember, he had a couple of hits a decade or so ago. He did 2 classic numbers, including "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?" He did an excellent job. He was followed by Eddy Raven, who did 3 of his hits from the 80's. He was also the subject of the "3 questions" segment, where Bill Cody asked him 3 questions about his career. Eddy was followed by a newcomer, Bradley Gaskin, who was making his first Opry appearance. He opened with a Keith Whitley song and then I think he finished with a Lefty number. After his first song he was overcome with emotion at being on the Opry for the first time and actually broke down. John Rich and Paul Overstreet were in the audience, and they are working with him on his new album. He also had numerous family members present. Lynn Anderson was the last act before intermission and she was great. She started with "Rose Garden", then followed up with "Cry" and finished with "Rocky Top." She was well received and looked and sounded great. Then it was intermission. I was very impressed as during the intermission Lynn sat at the edge of the stage and signed autographs and posed for pictures with those attending. Bradley also came out and did the same and Eddie Stubbs and Bill Cody were also signing for people. It was a nice personal touch to the show. After the intermission, Johnny Lee was first out and he did 3 songs including "Looking For Love". He also looked and sounded great and Wade Hayes did some guitar for him. Then Wade did another song and then it was time for the last act of the show, Gene Watson. He was also very good and did 3 songs, finishing with his super hit, "Farewell Party". The show lasted about 2 hours and like I said, it was very good.

Now, I do have a couple of concerns. First, the attendance had the Ryman about a third full, at best. The lower level was filled in the middle and had a few on the wings. In the balcony, there was just a scattering of people. I know from attending last year, that the attendance has not really improved. I don't know how long Gaylord can keep this show going without better support. Also, for a show like this, the ticket prices are a bit high. The top seat was $54.00 and that is just too much for a show like this. I think a price cut is in order. Also, I had made the comment earlier about no Opry members on an Opry sponsored show. We'll, also Thursday night was the R.O.P.E. show in Nashville and it was their annual awards show. Bill Anderson and Charlie Louvin took top honors as the entertainers of the year. Jack Greene was also honored and Moe Bandy was the featured performer. Many Opry members were at that show/dinner, which may explain why they were not at the Ryman that night.

Friday night, I attended the Friday Night Opry. It was a pretty good crowd, with the lower level pretty much full and the balcony about half. And, it was a good show. The first segment had Mike Snider, The Whites and a newcomer making his first Opry appearance, Craig Campbell. I sat in the row in front of his wife, mom and other family members, and they were talking about how proud they were of Craig. He did fine, but like a lot of the younger perfomers today, there was really nothing special about him. The next segment was hosted by George Hamilton IV, with Bobby Osborne, Crystal Gayle, and a suprise guest, Charles Osgood, the newsman from CBS. Charles came on after Bobby did "Rocky Top", and I thought he was just going to announce, but he did 2 songs, singing and playing the piano. The 2 songs were "Side By Side" and "You Are My Sunshine." And you know what? He was pretty good and the audience enjoyed him. Crystal Gayle was great and there is no reason why she is not an Opry member. She did 2 songs including, "I Still Miss Someone". They were running over on the segment because of Charles Osgood, so no 2nd song from George. Then came that horrible intermission. As with most shows I have been at, most of those attending stayed in their seats or in the general area of their seats, just talking and killing time until the show restarted. It just kills the flow of the show.

After intermission, Bill Anderson was out, with Connie Smith and Jimmy Wayne. It was kind of funny that both Bill and Connie forgot the words to one of their songs. That rarely happens to Connie. Jimmy Wayne was good and Bill have him a good introduction, talking about his walk for hunger, which was nice. I think Jimmy would also make a good Opry member someday. The final segment on Friday night was hosted by Roy Clark. He sounded real good, much better than the last time I saw him. But, he was hunched over and had difficulty walking. Other than that, he looked fine physically and he played a great guitar. Stu Phillips was out next for 1 number, and he was a little hoarse in spots, which he has been the last several times out. Joe Diffie finished with 2 songs and was well received by the audience. Then the birthday cake came out, which is a new, rebuilt cake. It looked a little better than the older one, which I am guessing got damaged in the flood. Overall, a good Friday Night Opry.

I attended both shows on Saturday night. The first show lasted exactly the time scheduled and started off with Jim Ed Brown, Connie Smith, Jimmy C. Newman and Del McCoury. Jim Ed has some mic problems during his segment and Jimmy C. is starting to show his age a bit. Del was excellent as was his band. The 2nd segment with Mike Snider as host, had Sunny Sweeney, Jack Greene and Trace Adkins. Sunny was fine for her one song, and was also performing outside the Opry House before both shows. Jack was awesome with "Statue Of A Fool", but it looked like he was having eyesite problems, as he was kind of being led off the stage. Trace Adkins had a big crowd down front and I enjoyed him. He is a good Opry member. Roy Clark had the next segment and his only guest, besides the Square Dancers, was Taylor Swift. Before the show, they were passing out Taylor Swift glow sticks, so that tells you what the younger fans were doing when she came out. She had a huge rush of people at the stage for her and did 3 songs. I have to tell you, I am not a big Taylor Swift fan, but she was great and had nice things to say about the Opry. Very good segment. Bill Anderson and Dolly Parton finished off the show. Dolly was outstanding, doing 3 songs, "Jolene", "I Will Always Love You", which she dedicated to Porter Wagoner and said many kind words about Porter, and finished with "9 To 5", which got her an encore. The the cake came out and only several Opry members were out with it. I thought I saw Dolly, Trace Adkins and I did see Mel McDaniel come out with the cake. He was the only performer who was not on the line-up who came out. Mel did not sing, but stood by the cake. The Opry House was sold out, with standing room only. It was a very good show.

The 2nd show was also sold-out. The only complaints I heard between shows was that people had only 15 minutes to get it, which is pushing it when you have almost 5,000 people attending. They did open the balcony doors and allowed those who had tickets upstairs to enter that way. The 2nd show was just as good as the first, with Jim Ed Brown, The Whites, Ray Pillow and Del McCoury on the opening segment. Ray did, "Cinderella", and looked and sounded very good. George Hamilton IV did the 2nd segment, with Jan Howard, T. Bubba Bechtol and Trace Adkins. Jan was very good, Bubba was very funny and Trace repeated the same 2 songs as the first show. The next segement featured Taylor Swift and she also did the same 3 songs and in fact, said the same thing between each song as she did on the first show. The final segment with Dolly, who wore a different outfit from the first show, was also great. She did "Coat Of Many Colors" on the 2nd show. The cake again came out, with Jan Howard coming out with the cake. The 2nd show ran about 20 minutes over. Again, it was a fine show, with lots of enthusiasm from the audience.

I did go backstage and toured the Opry House on Saturday. The backstage area is great, with historic pictures on all the walls, great looking and furnished dressing rooms and a couple of historical displays, including Roy Acuff's fiddle. If you get a chance, the Tennessean on line has a huge number of pictures that can do more justice than I can trying to expain it. For those of you who have been to the Opry House before, you will know what I am talking about. For those who have not, I will try to explain. In the lobby, there used to be pictures, including large black & white photos of classic Opry members, including Red Foley, Patsy Cline, Bill Monore, Roy Acuff, Hank Snow, Minnie Pearl, Marty Robbins, Hank Snow and a few others. Those are all gone and the walls are basically bare. I was told that the pictures will go back up eventually, but we will see. The lobby area was very bare. Nothing was in it except for the concessions. The ticket office and the gift shop have been remodeled.

Finally, regarding inside the Opry House, the sound system seems much better, the video presentation is much sharper, with different camera angles being used, and they have updated the opening video that is shown to the audience, with Carrie Underwood now as the featured artist in the video. The updated version includes the flood the ending segment of the 10 minute film is devoted to the circle being restored and being placed back on stage. The ending of the video leads right into the Opry and leaves you with an emotional feeling about the circle. Nicely done.

Outside the Opry House, the old Hee-Haw gift shop/restrooms/ticket office (the building had various uses over the years), is gone. Also torn down is the Gaslight Theater, where Ralph Emery did "Nashville Now." Also gone is the old building that at one time had the Roy Acuff exhibits, and also gone is the old Minnie Pearl museum, that more recently was the WSM offices.

Regarding the Opry Museum. The building is still there and I had a look inside. It is completely empty and is being used for storage. I talked to a person from Gaylord who just happened to be working at the museum on Friday, and he told me that everything that was in the building is safe and not damaged. That is great news. I was fearing the worst, but he told me that the water in the museum only got to be about a foot deep and most of the items were out before the flood got to that building. He also said that the only things that did get wet were the wheels of the cars that were on the floor. He said that they are still deciding what to do about the museum. The options that are being considered are to repair the building and reopen, to scrape the building and build a new one, to remodel the current building, or to rebuild the museum in a different spot, and he pointed over to where the old Roy Acuff/Minie Pearl buildings were. That would be a great location as it would be in an area that is more of a high traffic area.

The Acuff Theater is still there, but the building is empty and is just being used for storge. Also, the Opry area is fenced in because of the mall being closed. You are only allowed to park in one area and there were traffic jams both nights getting out. But, I will say, that they did have people in the parking lots, directing traffic in and out, and directing where to park.

Finally, the mall is still closed, with only Bass Pro Shops opened. And, their area is also fenced in. I talked to a few people who believe that the mall will never reopen because of the cost involved and the fact that a few of the merchants have already relocated to other areas. Without that mall, the Opry area is going to seem like a ghost town come winter. Gaylord Opryland is scheduled to reopen on November 15.

That is my recap. I will add some more comments as I review my notes, but it was a great weekend and it was great that the Opry is back at the Opry House. (At least until November).


  1. Thanks for a terrific report. I was glad to see you clearly had a good time and were impressed with what you saw--for the most part.

    I have to ask about Jimmy C. showing his age. Voice? Appearance?

    I saw a story about Jack Greene doing a show in his hometown and he was wearing sunglasses, so he may well be having some vision problems. I'm sorry I missed Charles Osgood, who sometimes plays the piano on "Sunday Morning." By the way, he is 77 years young!

  2. He just looked like he had aged a bit. He looked pretty good and he sounded "ok". He had more instrumentation in his song and less vocal. If I remember right, he has missed a few shows over the past couple of weeks.

  3. Great recap, Byron of the Saturday show. I really enjoyed the 1st show. Having been at both the reopening on 9/28 and the 1st show Saturday, I think I actually enjoyed the birthday show a little more because it was in the "Opry format" as opposed to a made for TV production. I will add regarding the crowd, that when we got out of the parking lot and onto the access road that leads out past the Hotel an onto Music Valley Drive which was about 9:23, just a few minutes before the 2nd show started, the line of cars trying to get in for the 2nd show ran almost out to the Willie Nelson Musuem/Fiddlers Inn on Music Valley Dr. I'm betting some of those people missed a significant amount of the 2nd show. That would have been really irritating at 50.00 a pop. Byron, did you notice a lot of people coming in late? I also noticed listening on the radio going home that several acts did the same song set on the 2nd show as they had done on the 1st show. Wish they wouldn't do that. In a rarity, Bill Anderson even repeated a song on the 2nd show. But all in all, had a great time Saturday.

  4. For the 2nd show, they opened the doors at 9:15. As you would expect, it was very crowded outside the Opry House, with people still working their way out to the parking lot, mixed in with those coming in. And, you had a pretty large group hanging out where Sunny was singing, which added to congestion in that area. Oh can we add that everyone was being funneled out through the front gate entrance of the fence.

    My seat for the 2nd show was in the 1st row of the balcony, right in the center. A great seat. There was no sign saying that the balcony exit doors were being used as an entrance. I saw people standing up there and asked a security guard what the story was, and he said if you had a ticket for upstairs, you could go in those doors. They had 2 doors open on each side, with 1 ticket taker each. It moved ok. If it wasn't for those upstairs doors being open, it would have been much worst.

    By the time I got in and was standing in line at a concession stand to get a coke, the video was already starting. By the time I got in the auditorium, the video was over half done. From my vantage point, the lower level was about two-thirds filled, as was the balcony. There were people coming in up through the 2nd segment of the show.

    I didn't hear any complaints going in, but I heard people talking going out and it was obvious from some of the comments, that many did not get into their seats at the start of the show. I heard several people saying that they should have had a longer break between shows. Maybe one suggestion would be to start the 2nd show at 10, leaving a half-hour break between shows. That could work and give them more time to sell concessions and picture history books. What would have made the whole thing worst would have been having Dolly or Taylor scheduled for that first segment on the 2nd show and many people missing out on one of the bigger acts.

    I also agree that I hate it when an artist does the same songs on both shows. Trace Adkins, Taylor Swift did the same numbers, and even the same comments between songs. 2 of the 3 songs Dolly did were the same, but at least she changed her outfit. And you were right about Bill Anderson repeating a song. I know most people do not go to both shows, but lots of people listen to both shows. I don't know if the artists aren't thinking, or are just lazy and don't want to push it more than they have to. On the good side, Del McCoury, Jim Ed Brown and Roy Clark all did different numbers.

    I know it is rare these days for the Opry to do 2 shows and even rarer for the 2nd show to be a sellout. And, we know from experience that it is even bad when they try to do 2 shows while at the Ryman.

    All that said, I agree that both shows were very good and I think all those attending really enjoyed it.

  5. Oops!! What I meant to say was by starting the 2nd show at 10, that would leave an hour break between shows. The present break is a half hour. And I might add, if the first show runs long, they still start the 2nd show right at 9:30.

  6. Not a bad idea about the second show, and that would continue the flow right into the Midnight Jamboree for WSM.

    I noticed that most of them did the same number twice. That does cut both ways. I'm sure Mr. Acuff wanted to open with something other than Wabash Cannonball, but there might have been a revolt if he didn't. I know that Hank Snow rebelled and tried to do some of his lesser-known hits. But many of those on the two shows have had enough hits that they could have mixed it up a little.

    Then again, I know that in the old days, the second show often came out differently from the first show because, in between, they had visited Tootsie's (37 steps from the back door of the Ryman, as Hairl used to say, but 74 if you're Little Jimmy Dickens) and were in what somebody once called various stages of mood alteration.

  7. I know the feeling from being at the Opry when someone does not do their main hit, or signature song, but most of the veteran artists do have enough hits that they can mix it up once in a while.

    The thing that I really hate is that after I pay my $54 to see the Opry the artist comes out and either sings a song that he never recorded or he does a number from an "upcoming album" that he wants to try out on the Opry audience. If he wants to try out a song, in my opinion he or she can go to open mic night at the Bluebird Cafe.

    Finally, you mention Hank Snow. I remember toward the end of his career that he decided he wanted to sing on the Opry every song that he had ever recorded and hit the charts. But, he included his Canadian recordings that in many cases, were never released in the United States. So for what seemed like a year or so, he was singing different songs on each show on both nights. Looking back, I think Hank really knew he was coming to the end and just wanted to sing these old songs one more time before a life audience, maybe it was his way of looking back on his career.

  8. I didn't know that about Hank Snow, but it sounds like him--he would do it just to be contrary, too! I would think, if he was explaining it to the audience, it might have gone over well, but I can also see where it would have been annoying ... especially to the Rainbow Ranch Boys! They'd have to learn all those songs!

  9. Love this review!!! I was at the Opry Country Classics show at the Ryman on Oct. 7, too, and what a fantastic show that was!!! I'm a big Lynn Anderson fan, and I, too, was very impressed that she stayed on stage during intermission and signed autographs, posed for pictures, etc. When she was on the Opry Country Classics show back in June during CMA Fest, she happened to be the last one on before intermission then, too, and did the same thing. Lynn sees that as "part of her job" as an entertainer, and when I heard her interview the next morning on WSM with Bill Cody, she talked about that. She sort of took newcomer Bradley Gaskin (GREAT voice!!!!) under her wing that night, and on the radio the next morning, she talked about telling him that meeting the fans was part of his job. Also, Lynn and Bradley came back on stage and sang backup on "Looking For Love" for Johnny Lee. Lynn's a very kind, caring person, and that was obvious that night in both her interactions with the fans and her treatment of Bradley Gaskin.

    Great review!!!!