As I have been watching and listening to the Opry over the past several months, I have been seeing lots of guest artists on the Opry. In fact, so far in 2011, 125 different guests have performed on the Opry. Many of these guest artists have been newcomers to the business and were making their first Opry appearances, while others have been veteran artists who have played the Opry many times.
As the number of active Opry members has been decreasing, I have been thinking about who I would like to see as an Opry member. I have come up with a list of 10 who I think would make good Opry members. By good, I mean that based on their past performances, they would appreciate and understand the importance of being an Opry member and would actively support the show. In no special order, here is my list of 10:
1) Mandy Barnett. I know that the first thing some of you will say is that she has not had a hit record and is not a "real" star. But, I think this is a very talented young lady. She has one of the greatest voices in the world and each time I have seen her at the Opry, she has been well received. So far in 2011, she has appeared on the Opry 10 times. Only 17 of the 65 Opry members have had more appearances then her. She made 14 appearances last year. Currently, there is a shortage of active female Opry members. On many of the Opry's shows, there have been as few as 1 or 2 females scheduled. I think Mandy would be a fine Opry member and would add another talented female voice to the show.
2) Crystal Gayle. In keeping with the theme of the Opry needing some additional female voices, Crystal Gale is one of the most talented females in the history of country music. She was one of the top female artists in the 1980's and 1990's. She is still popular today and her concerts draw well. Last year, she made 4 Opry appearances and she has also appeared this year. The crowd loves her and I think she could be a female version of Mel Tillis. By that I mean an older artist, who's best part of their career is behind them, and now has the time to be a part of the Opry.
3) Oak Ridge Boys. I have seen the Oak Ridge Boys perform on the Opry at least a half dozen times. Each and every time they have performed "Elvira", they have received a standing ovation. They bring energy and excitement to the Opry and they appeal to all ages. For about the last dozen years, the "Boys" have made several Opry appearances each year. Last year it was 4 and so far this year, they have been on 5 times with several more appearances already scheduled. There are only 2 other country group that are Opry members, and those are The Whites and Diamond Rio. I happened to be up in the balcony at the Ryman Auditorium about a dozen years ago, during an Opry show, and Duane Allen was also standing in the back. I went over and said hi, and made the comment that the Oak Ridge Boys should be Opry members. Duane was very nice and said that they would love to be Opry members, but that they are just too busy. It would seem that with their career winding down, this would be the perfect time for them to join.
4) Rhonda Vincent. It seems like the question has been asked for about the last 5 or 6 years, why is Rhonda Vincent not a member of the Opry? She is one of the top female vocalists in bluegrass and with Alison Krauss the only female bluegrass artist on the Opry roster, it seems that this would be a great fit. She has made many Opry guest appearances and has always been well received. Last year her Opry appearances were down to 4, which is one of her lowest numbers. Many have speculated that her association with Martha White has hurt. That I don't know, but what I do know is that Rhonda should be an Opry member.
5) Dailey & Vincent. In keeping with the bluegrass theme, many of the Opry's bluegrass acts are now elder statesmen. Ralph Stanley and Jesse McReynolds are over 80 and Del McCoury and Bobby Osborne are not far behind. Even Ricky Skaggs is well over 50. It is time for some new bluegrass blood on the Opry and Dailey & Vincent should be the ones. Last year, they made 15 Opry appearances and so far in 2011, it has been 6. Bluegrass started on the Opry and the tradition of great bluegrass music needs to continue from the Opry stage. Dailey & Vincent would make great Opry members.
6) Rascal Flatts. They are one of the hottest groups in country music today and have been for the past several years. They are true country entertainers and they love the Opry. They have been making Opry appearances for the past several years and, as you would expect, the crowd loves them. And they are young. That is important as the Opry needs to continue to add younger members, but only younger members who will support the show. I believe that they would.
7) Jimmy Wayne. Not only is Jimmy a fine young talent with a couple of #1 records, he is an even better person. The Opry and WSM were one of his big supporters on his "Walk Across America." Last year, he made 9 Opry appearances and so far in 2011, it has been 6. When you see him on the stage of the Opry, the young girls love him and he always interacts with the audience. He understands the history of the show and would make a good member.
8) Gene Watson. This man should have been an Opry member 25 years ago. The Opry calls upon him many times and he always answers the call. And, he is considered one of the greatest country singers in history. He had 6 appearances last year, and 4 so far this year. His hit records from the 1980's are recognized by everyone the minute he starts with the first note. Much like Crystal Gayle, he would bring a veteran voice to the Opry, and one who would make the time to be at the show.
9) The Grascals. In keeping with the bluegrass theme, this group, while new in bluegrass, has made a huge impact during the past several years. Starting out as basically Dolly Parton's back up bluegrass group, they have moved to the front. They have made numerous Opry appearances over the last 5 years and they play a great selection of up-tempo bluegrass. Their Cracker Barrel CD is great. When I was at the Opry in April, they were there and it was my first time seeing them in person. I was hooked right away. They would not hurt the Opry one bit.
10) James Wesley. Some of you are probably saying, who? But, in my opinion, this is one of the great young talents in country music. He has made 6 Opry appearances so far this year, and even the great Jimmy Dickens has given him his personal endorsement. He is true country. And, in the time I saw him at the Opry, he seems to understand what the Opry is all about. As with Rascal Flatts, the Opry needs to continue to appeal to the younger fans, and I think James Wesley would fit the bill.
I know I left some off the list. Names such as Mark Wills, Elizabeth Cook, Rebecca Lynn Howard, Holly Williams, Restless Heart, Aaron Tippin, Joey+Rory and The Band Perry. My 10 that I would pick are probably not anyone else's 10. So, who else has an opinion. I would love to hear.