Monday, August 15, 2011

Recap of Grand Ole Opry-Saturday August 13

This past Saturday night, August 13, I went down to the Opry. As someone who has attended hundreds of Opry shows in his lifetime, I have to say that this was one of the best shows I have attended. Vince Gill was being honored for being an Opry member for 20 years and he deserves it. The Opry House was sold out, with standing room only tickets being sold. The crowd was alive and vocal, and they were really into the show. I hope that it sounded well on the radio.

The show started with a tribute to Billy Grammer. The house and stage lights were turned down and Billy's picture was on the video screens. Pete Fisher read a very nice tribute and then the standard moment of silence. After that, Bill Cody, who was announcing in place of Mike Terry, introduced the square dancers and the show was underway.

In a surprise, after the square dancers, Bill Cody introduced Vince Gill, and he came out with a Grammer Guitar. He said a few kind words about Billy and said there was only one way to start the Opry tonight, and then he started to sing the great Billy Grammer song, "Gotta Travel On." Vince did an awesome job on the song, as did the Opry staff band that played with him. After several more kind words about Billy, Vince left the stage and Bill introduced the host of the 1st segment, Jimmy Dickens.

I know that Jimmy had a rough week, missing a few shows, but I have got to tell you, he looked and sounded very good. He did "Out Behind The Barn" and then his usual jokes. John Anderson was his only guest, and Jimmy did a nice introduction and I think he forgot John's last name. He looked and made a small joke about not seeing him in the wings as he was trying to get his piece of paper out of his pocket. But, then he must have seen John off stage and remembered his last name. John did 2 great songs, including his signature hit, "Swingin." A very nice job. Jimmy finished out his segment with the song, "We Could", and Vince was back out on stage playing guitar for Jimmy. I know Jimmy did not mention Vince on the radio. The 1st 30 minute segment took about 35-40 minutes.

Bill Anderson hosted the 2nd segment, and it was his first time back at the Opry since his 50th anniversary celebration in July. Bill sounded and looked good and his first two guests were The Whites and Jean Shepard. The Whites were fine and Jean sounded great. She did move a little slow, but it did not show in her performance. After the commercial, Bill introduced The Time Jumpers, which is a group that plays every Monday night at the Station Inn, in Nashville. Vince is a rotating part of the group, as is Doug Green of Riders In The Sky. Doug was not there on Saturday, so Vince was highlighted on the 1st song, "Corrina Corrina". The 2nd song was sung by Dawn Sears, and I did not recognize the song, although it was written by Vince. Besides being a part of The Time Jumpers, Dawn is also Vince's harmony singer. Bill finished out the segment with a few nice words about Billy Grammer, including calling and asking him if he could come and be a part of his 50th anniversary in July, but he said that Billy told him that he was just not up to traveling. Bill then did "The Corner Of My Life" to finish out his segment.

After the intermission, which I still do not like, Emmylou Harris hosted the next segment. She opened with "Two More Bottles Of Wine", with Vince out singing harmony with her. The Osborne Brothers were next and did "Rocky Top' and then Martina McBride, who looks great, did 2 songs, a Vince Gill number, which I think was, "Take Your Memory With You When You Go", if I remember and then she did a new song that will be on her upcoming album. Emmylou then brought out the square dancers, after being reminded that they were there (she was headed to a commercial), and as she usually does when she hosts the segment with the square dancers, joined them for their number. No she did not spin around, but she did dance with one of the dancers. I have seen her dance with them before and the audience loves it. After that, she said a few words about her being back at the Opry House for the first time since the flood and how great it looked. I had to think for a minute and she was right. All the other times she has been at the Opry, it has been while the show is at the Ryman in the winter. I know she prefers that venue versus the Opry House. She and Vince finished the segment with a duet.

The last segment was hosted by the man of the night, Vince Gill. After the curtain came up, they presented a video tribute to Vince, showing his first Opry appearance with Jimmy C Newman hosting, the night he became a member with Roy Acuff, and then clips of various Opry performances through the years. Very nicely done and Vince was moved by it. Of course, a standing ovation followed. Vince then did, "Look At Us", which I have to admit is my favorite Vince Gill song. He introduced his daughter Jenny, and she did an awesome job with her Dad looking on behind her, and visably moved. After the commercial, he brought out his wife Amy Grant. She did two numbers and Vince stayed and played guitar for her. Her first number was a Christian ballad and then she did a song dedicated to Vince. After that, Pete Fisher came out and presented Vince with a framed copy of the cover of the program for the night and Vince again received a standing ovation. He then said a few words about the Opry and how he felt and finished off the night with the "song that brought me here", "When I Call Your Name". With that the show ended.

The show lasted about 2 hours and 45 minutes, with the 15 minute intermission so it was nice that they were not watching the time. I have commented before that on the nights with only one show, that most of these shows have been running over on time. And, as I mentioned, the show was a sellout, with a demand for tickets. I kept thinking that if there was ever a night for 2 shows, this was it, but I don't think the 2nd show would of had the emotion of the first one.

The area outside the Opry House looked very nice. However, I will note that since my last visit, they have torn down the Acuff Theater that set next to the Opry House. I know it was damaged pretty good in the flood and I have heard that they are going to use it for bus parking. Also, the Opry Museum is still standing, but they have taken the Opry Museum name off the building and are using it for storage. They still say they are going to either rebuild or reopen the museum, but at this point, nothing has been done.

That about covers it. It was a very good trip and the show was awesome to attend. As I mentioned when covering the line up, I like the fact that they are recognizing anniversaries of Opry members, but they need to do it for everyone. Vince deserves the attention as he really has shown an example to many others that you can be a star, still be out on the road doing shows, yet still support the Opry. This weekend was his 14th Opry show of the year, and I know he has more scheduled. Others could follow his example.


  1. Thanks for the great report. FYI. The duet Emmylou sang with Vince was a Townes Van Zandt song, "If I Needed You." Emmylou and Don Williams had a hit with it in 1981 or '82. (Hard to believe it's been 30 years.)

    I SO wish I could have been at Saturday's show.

  2. GREAT report. Thanks. Vince deserves every accolade. And his tribute to Billy Grammer was in keeping with what a class act he is.

  3. Fred from Bismarck here:

    Great job, Byron. Sounds like a night that hit all the right notes. Also, with bills of this quality, the Opry could probably fill the house most Saturday nights.

    The thing I like most about Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris and John Anderson is that they've kept the quality of their music high over such a period of time. It hasn't always been COUNTRY country, but these folks never relaxed their seriousness about finding and recording good songs ... a discipline that even some of the greats of longer ago didn't always observe.

    A good reason that they will probably never be "has beens", no matter how long they are on the scene. Whether so-called country radio plays them or not.

    So, more power to them -- and you sure caught a wonderful-sounding show, Byron.

  4. Thanks guys and thanks Ollie for the title of the 2nd Emmylou and Vince number. I just couldn't remember it and they sang it so well.

    Oh, and the other thing I wanted to mention was that Carol Lee Cooper was not there again on Saturday night. She has been missing for a couple of months now and there have been different reports on when she might be back. With the artists that were there on Saturday night, I did not see the singers on stage after the 1st segment. I know they were not there at all after intermission.

  5. I wonder just how Carol Lee is doing.

    Fred, I'd like to echo what you say and add something to it. I don't listen to much country radio, but when I do--or when I hear some of the guest artists on the Opry--I am at a loss to tell you who they are or what makes them unique, because I don't see anything that does make them unique. They don't have a sound or anything distinctive. Vince, Emmylou, and John Anderson definitely do.

  6. Fred from Bismarck here.

    Amen, Michael. In the good old days -- and I mean OLD, Brother -- you didn't even have to wait for the voice to know who you were listening to: A bar or two of instrumental music identified the band.

    Studio musicians have erased that listener's aid; and, as you say, Michael, most of the hunks and glamor queens sound alike. A complaint directed at the girls: As one raised on Kitty Wells and Wilma Lee Cooper, I don't need to see your belly buttons. It's not as if we're going to hop into bed. That's not what you're for ... I'm only after a good country song!

    The hunks similarly insult female country fans. (I realize there are fans of both sexes out there who enjoy being patronized in this way -- maybe even insist on it -- but that's another problem.)

    A final thought on the songs. I think an honest listener, comparing a best-of-the-year compilation from 50 years ago to one from more recently, would have to acknowledge a tremendous dropoff in quality and variety. The wit and wordplay of a Merle Travis or Hank Thompson, the articulate REAL pain of a Hank Williams ... hard to find.

    I realize that genius does not come along every day. But giants like those gave the more-ordinary talents of the day something to aspire to, I think. Raised the bar ... so that the overall product was significantly higher.

    Enough opinions from here for one day!

  7. Fred, I'm with you all the way, and I don't think we are being old fogies about it. Not too many years ago, Bill Anderson asked whether you ever heard anybody whistling a current country tune on a Nashville street. No, of course not. Granted, it's hard to whistle a ballad, but I think we don't have the same quality of songs and songwriters we did at one time--more isn't necessarily better.

    Others, whether or not they used studio musicians, had a SOUND, as you say. Even if Ernest Tubb or Hank Snow used studio people, not only were their voices distinctive but, as you say, when you heard the first chords, you knew.

  8. A gentle note of dissent here. I'd say that many of the guest artists Emmylou invites to perform with her during segments she hosts have distinctive voices and styles that I recognize when I hear them on WSM's Opry broadcasts. I'm thinking of folks like Sam Bush, Rodney Crowell, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, Patty Griffin, etc. I don't think it's a coincidence that none of them are played anymore (or ever) on commercial country radio, and I understand that many, if not most, of this blog's readers may not think of them as country artists, but IMHO, the quality of their music is very high, and is performed in the country tradition.

  9. Ollie, I shouldn't have been sweeping and NOBODY, but your point is spot on that they aren't played on country radio. Nor are the older artists who had or have a "sound."

  10. Fred again (not done for the day after all, apparently):

    You bet there are fine younger artists out there, Ollie, and it's people like Emmylou and Marty Stuart who help us find them. But these artists aren't the ones with the big record deals anymore or the ones you hear on country radio. Or, sad to say, even the ones Gaylord is interested in signing to the Opry. I think that's all that Michael and I meant.

    I still buy a lot of CDs; and, when it's not a re-issue on one of my old heroes, it's by one of the artists of the stripe mentioned by Ollie. There are MANY kickass oldtime string bands out there, for instance, playing the festivals and printing their own CDs. I generally catch up with them from the County Sales web site or newsletter, or in the pages of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine.

  11. I wanted to add my two cents into the discussion. Not only could you recognize many of the older musicians when you heard the start of a song, but you could also recognize what musicians were playing on a record. Certain piano sounds to start a song and you immediately knew that it was Floyd Cramer. And on and one with drums knowing it was Buddy Harman, sax with Boots Randolph. You knew who the A team was.

  12. Thanks for the kind words about my grandfather, Billy Grammer. I have been searching far and wide for an audio recording of Vince singing Gotta Travel On with no luck. Do you have any suggestions as to how I could get a copy of it?

    Thanks, Rob Mezger in Dallas TX
    bobmezger at gmail

  13. Rob, thanks so much for the comments. Speaking on behalf of myself and my readers, we all enjoyed the music of your grandfather. From what I have heard, he was a fine man.

    As far as a recording of Vince Gill singing "Gotta Travel On", I know that on the WSM on-line website, they have posted the show in the archive section and it does include Vince singing the song and the kind words he said. I don't know if you could get a recording from WSM. I am pretty sure that you cannot make a copy of the song off their website due to copyright laws.

    I would also keep looking on YouTube as Opry clips tend to show up there, or the Opry's YouTube channel. You could probably call WSM or the Opry and ask them to post a video copy there, as I am sure it would also interest others who could not attend the show. You could then save it to a file on your computer.

    That is all that I can think of to offer. Good luck!!!

  14. Rob, Vince Gill's website also might have some material, but I bet if you wrote to him, he would be glad to help you.

    And my sympathies on your loss. All of us lost a great singer and picker. You lost a family member. Our thoughts are with you.