I spent this last weekend in Nashville and attending the McReynolds Memorial Bluegrass Music Spectacular and the Friday Night Opry and the Saturday Grand Ole Opry. It was a fun and interesting weekend.
On Thursday evening was the McReynolds Spectacular in Gallatin. If you are a bluegrass fan, it was a great show featuring not only Jesse McReynolds & The Virginia Boys, but also Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers; The Tennessee Gentlemen, New Foundation, Buddy Griffin & Friends, Danny Rothwell and McReynolds Tradition. Eddie Stubbs served as the announcer for the 1st half of the show and Sam Jackson handled the 2nd half.
For $15, you could not beat the 3 hour show. The music was great, the crowd, while a bit on the small size, was enthusiastic. The entertainers all had tables set up in the back of the gym and were meeting and greeting fans, selling music and merchandise and just having a good time. It was all for a good cause and hopefully I can be back for next year's show.
Now regarding my Opry experience. The crowds on both nights were pretty small. I was told the Friday Night Opry had about 1200 people in attendance and the crowd on Saturday appeared even smaller. And that was with Friday night being promoted as "WSM Appreciation Night", with a ticket offer of buy one, get one free. I would have hated to see what the crowd would have been without that promotion.
On Friday, with the WSM promotion, you had all the WSM personalities announcing a different segment. While Bill Cody, Mike Terry and Eddie Stubbs know what they are doing, the same could not be said for general manager Mike Ford and the other 2 announcers. They just seemed to go on and on. More music and less talk would have been nice.
The show Friday night was fine. Vince Gill was obviously the highlight and he used the Del McCoury Band as his back up for the night and did several bluegrass numbers with them. Colin Raye, Joe Diffie were fine and in fact, there was not one performer who did a bad number. While the line up on Saturday was not as strong as the Friday night line up, the show was just as good.
As far as the performers and my observations, Jimmy Dickens looked great both nights. It looked like he has added a little weight and seemed in good spirits. He sounded fantastic on Friday night, but his voice seemed not as strong on Saturday. Not sure how it all sounded on the radio. Jean Shepard sounded great with her 2 songs, but she looked a little ragged. Jack Greene received a great ovation and his voice was very strong, but he had to be guided off the stage. I am afraid his eye site might be failing him. Jimmy C. Newman sounded and looked good also. Jan Howard was her classy self and featured the Carol Lee Singers with her number.
As far as any negative comments, on Friday night you had a group called The Willis Clan. I had never heard of them before, and neither had Vince Gill, who was the host for that segment and introduced them. He had to read all the information about them off a sheet of paper. The Willis Clan is a family group, of mom and dad and what I think were 8 children, ranging in age from 7 to teenagers. The one teenager who did the talking said they were happy to be on "the Opry show." While they sounded fine, their music was not country, but was celtic. My complaint is that I am paying $54 a seat and I wanted to hear "professional" entertainers, not some family group that is not really playing country music. And, they did 2 songs and introductions of everyone, while many of the legends are limited to 1 song.
Also, on Saturday night, there were only 6 square dancers instead of the usual 8. The square dancing also seemed to be shorter. I don't know if this is a permanent cutback on the number of dancers, in a cost cutting mode, or if it was just for that night.
Finally, I want to address the appearance of some of those performing. While I don't expect entertainers anymore to dress in the rhinestone suits like Jimmy Dickens, or even to be in the suit coats and ties like Del McCoury, Bobby Osborne, Jesse McReynolds and their groups, I do expect that for my $54 and the fact that these performers are playing the Opry, that they should not be dressed like they are going to Walmart on a Saturday morning. Don't get me wrong. Most of the performers looked nice in dress shirts, clean and wrinkle free jeans or sports jackets. Jean Shepard, The Whites and Jan Howard all looked fine. But, Mike Snider looked like he just came in off the farm. He had on his bib overalls, that were just messy looking, and what looked like a pair of long johns under them. He just looked bad. Same with Colin Raye, with a very wrinkled tee shirt on and really messy looking jeans. Mark Wills on Friday night came out on stage to sing with Joe Diffie, and he obviously looked like he was unprepared to go out on stage. I don't know. I just think if you are playing a show with the history and tradition of the Opry, you deserve to show a little more respect to the show.
As far as the Opryland area, no additional work has been done since I was last there in October. The mall is still closed and fenced off. The Acuff Theater is still up, but I was told that it is going to be torn town and the area was going to be used for bus parking. The Opry Museum is still closed and I heard 2 different reports. One was that the museum would be back open by Memorial Day, which I don't believe at all. The 2nd is that they are going to use the present museum as a storage building, but build a new one over where the Gaslight Theater used to be, that has been torn down. But, I saw no evidence of any construction getting ready to start.
With the mall closed and the convention business still down, the area around the Opry is still pretty dead. I stay at the Fairfield Marriott when I go to Nashville, and on Friday and Saturday night, only 22 of the rooms were booked each night. Shoney's, which used to be the place to see entertainers, was pretty empty after the Opry. And of course, there is no Midnight Jamboree taking place until March.
I know that the Opry will still be up and down as they go through the rest of winter. Nashville has had a tough winter also. I remember in the early 1990's of crowds of only about 500 for the 2nd Saturday show on some nights. But I really think that for what they are charging for tickets, they have to offer a stronger line up each week. The previous weekend at the Ryman, both shows were sold out on Saturday night, but Toby Keith and Trace Adkins were on the line up, and Toby will draw a crowd. This coming week, Mel Tillis, Ronnie Milsap and Marty Stuart, among others, will be there. I am sure the attendance will be better than this past week. It just makes it harder and harder to support the show as the ticket prices go up and the number of artists and the quality go down.