Monday, April 18, 2011

Observations From My Opry Visit

This past weekend I went down to Nashville for the Opry. There was one show on Friday night and then the two shows on Saturday night. All 3 shows were pretty good, with the Friday Night Opry probably the best of the three.

The Friday Night Opry featured the return of Clint Black to the Opry stage, and he did a nice job. He had Steve Wariner with him, who played guitar and sang with Clint on his 2nd number. When Bill Anderson introduced Clint, he made some comments about Clint not being around as much as he should be and that he hoped Clint would play the Opry more often. Nice of Bill to say that, although there was no response from Clint. The other headliner, if you will, on Friday night was Vince Gill. He did his usual good job and probably got a better reaction from those in the Opry House than Clint did. He closed out the show with a song dedicated to Amy's Mom, who he mentioned was in the final days of her life.

Besides Clint and Vince, The Grascals were on and were excellent and well received. Jimmy Dickens looked and sounded the best that I have seen him in the last several years. Jim Ed Brown was good as was Jimmy C. Newman. The Whites had Vince Gill singing some backup for their song, along with the Carol Lee Singers, who were missing Carol Lee. John Conlee, Bobby Osborne, Jeannie Seely and Bill Anderson rounded out the Opry veterans who were on the Friday show. The final guest appearing was Rebecca Lynn Howard. She has an absolutely great country voice and I just don't understand why her career has not taken off like you would expect. She has a great personality on the stage and to be honest, has a good look about her.

The Friday show had about 3000 in attendance and the show ran over by about 15 minutes. And of course, there was that intermission that most everyone hates. He just ruins the flow of the show.

As far as Saturday night, the first show had a little over 3000 there. The lower level was all filled as was the lower balcony. The 2nd show had only about 400-500 people there. It was one of the smaller crowds that I have seen in a long, long time. I was up in the balcony talking to one of the hostesses that I know and I counted the crowd when the show started, and there were only 80 people in the entire balcony. They were telling people they could sit where they wanted and to move closer. It was just terrible. I know that this was the last Saturday with 2 shows for a while, but I cannot see how they can have 2 Saturday shows with that type of attendance. A couple of the artists made comments about the size of the crowd, not in a negative way, but really thanking the people for coming out. Jimmy Dickens, Bill Anderson and Vince Gill were really good about it. And I will say that the 2nd show was better than the first one.

As far as the 1st show, Jimmy Dickens sounded good again, as did Jimmy C. Newman on the opening segment. Rebecca Lynn Howard was the final guest Jimmy's show and she did the same two songs that she did on Friday Night. Again, an excellent job. Mike Snider hosted the 2nd segment and had a guest vocalist with him and I did not catch his name. I think he was a college student from North Carolina, and he did do a nice job. Jean Shepard came out next and looked real rough. She was wearing sunglasses and made reference to her husband causing the injuries she had. She also had a black eye, a big bruise on her face and she said she had a broken rib. Wow!! I had not read anything about her being in an accident, but that is what it looked like, or she fell. Either way, my prayers go out to her and I applaud her for appearing on the Opry. For whatever pain she was in, she sounded great. Jack Greene also sounded good, but it appeared to me that he was having some sight issues. Point Of Grace was the final act on this segment and they are a three female gospel group. They were fine, just nothing special. To me, they were more of a filler group.

Bill Anderson hosted the 3rd segment and had on John Conlee and Mountain Heart. They were both good. The Opry Square Dancers were on and what I found odd was that there were 6 dancers for the first show, but the regular 8 dancers for the 2nd show. And finally, Vince Gill hosted the final segment with Riders In The Sky and Connie Smith as his guests. Connie sounded and looked great.

Also during the first show, Jean Shepard introduced Oscar Sullivan, from Lonzo & Oscar fame, who was sitting up on the Opry stage in the back. He stood up and waved. It was a little hard to see him behind everything, but from what I could see, he looked pretty good. He stayed up on stage for the rest of the show and I could see numerous people going over and talking to him. Nice to see him there. Carol Lee Cooper was missing again on Saturday night. The Carol Lee Singers were introduced a couple of times, but no particular mention was made of Carol Lee.

The 2nd Saturday show had The Whites and Jan Howard as the only additional artists that were not on the first show, while Jimmy C. Newman, Mike Snider and Jack Greene only worked the first show. The show ran over as most of the artists song slower, ballad songs and there just seemed to be a more relaxed atmosphere to the show. Point Of Grace and Rebecca Lynn Howard did the same 2 numbers as the first show. Connie Smith did a great job with "Peace In The Valley". And Vince was awesome with a new number, "If I Die", which he said would be in a new album that he will have out in the summer.

As far as outside the Opry House, the Acuff Theater is still up and it looked like some work was being done at the Museum. There was a dumpster out front of it with trash in it and yellow caution tape in front of the doors. Neither was there in February when I was down. And it was announced last week that Opry Mills would be rebuilt and opening by summer of 2012. That will be great news for the Opry area as it still looks like a ghost town out there. With Gaylord Opryland open again there was a lot more traffic than in the winter. They just don't seem to be getting to the Opry. I think what really hurt the 2nd show on Saturday night was the lack of star power for the show. Vince Gill is fine, but he cannot carry the show by himself. And with ticket prices the way they are, people are expecting much more. I know it is hit and miss a lot of week with the Opry, but if they don't have a Carrie Underwood or someone like that there that is going to help sell walk up tickets, it probably does not pay to have that 2nd show.

Those are my observations. I hope the show sounded good on the radio. I will listen to the archive broadcast later in the week and thanks for checking the blog out.


  1. Byron, I really appreciate this update. Good to hear all this (not all good news, admittedly), because of course we don't SEE how our favorites look. As for Carol Lee, it occurs to me that we never hear anything much any more about the members of her group since WSM dropped a "real" warmup show of interviews and banter during the Opry broadcast is so rare.

  2. I'd also add, will they just get it over with and invite the Grascals to be members? They should have brought in Rhonda Vincent a long time ago, but the bluegrass acts are all getting up there.

  3. I think you are right about The Grascals, Rhonda Vincent and Dailey & Vincent. All have good careers and all would be assets to the Opry. I know Rhonda's Opry appearances have decreased in the past year, but The Grascals and Dailey & Vincent have been on more than many of the Opry members. In fact, at the Friday Night Opry, it was noted that The Grascals were making their 100th Opry appearance.

    And, you are right about the ages of some of the current bluegrass Opry members. Ralph Stanley and Jesse McReynolds are both over 80, and without looking it up, Bobby Osborne is very close. Heck, even Ricky Skaggs is in his mid-50s right now.

    With bluegrass music being very popular right now, and with many country artists making bluegrass albums, I would think now is the time to add some bluegrass playing members to the Opry.

  4. I was at the second show on Saturday. First time to the Opry, but have wanted to go since I was young working at a radio station that re-broadcast some of the shows in the '70s'.

    I saw Vince last summer at Clapton's Crossroads Guitarfest - and was very excited to see him on the lineup. Had tears in my eyes at the end of the show. That last song hit me hard. GREAT performance.

    There was a young girl who performed in one of the sets - she did a song about being 17. Teenage angst.... I missed her name but thought it would be in the program. Now can't seem to find her listed anywhere. Anyone know who that was??

    Up side to the small crowd, I was solo on my way back from Florida to Illinois and was able to get a front row seat. Sweet.

    I too hope the small crowd is not an indication of things being tough at the Opry. Want my kids to be able to experience it at some point.

  5. The singer you are talking about is Rebecca Lynn Howard. She was added to the Saturday night line up after the program was printed. That seems to happen quite a bit at the Opry. Rebecca does the Opry on a semi-regular basis and is always well received. She had a hit record several years back, called "Forgive". Since then, she has had several albums out, but she just can't seem to get her career untracked.

    You are right about Vince Gill's final song, "If I Die". It was a powerful song, especially with Vince singing it with just his guitar and dedicating it to Amy's Mom. As I was leaving the Opry House after that song, that was about as quiet as I have heard a crowd leaving the show. It was a song that really made you think and reflect.

    As far as the small crowd, there are several factors that I think have contributed to the attendance slide at the Opry. Certainly the economy is an issue, with the flood taking place last year and the shopping center closed. Opryland closing down years back also took a lot from the Opry.

    But at the same time, the Opry management, with the backing of Gaylord Entertainment, the Opry's owners, have to share in the blame. They have cut back the number of shows, have reduced the length of the shows, have raised ticket prices while having less artists on each show, cannot find a television partner to air the Opry and have had very inconsistent line ups week in and week out, with many of the Opry's major members being no shows at the Opry.

    Some days I have my doubts, but I am confident that the Opry will survive. Gaylord's reaction after the flood did show me that they care about the show as is the amount of money and investment that they put into getting the Opry House back open again. But, it is not the same Opry that I, and many of the Opry's fans, grew up with. It will never go back to that, but there are enough of us who love the Opry that I feel strongly that it will be ok.