I am back from Nashville and wanted to offer my observations and thoughts regarding the Grand Ole Opry's 86th birthday celebration. I will start off by saying that I have attended every Grand Ole Opry birthday weekend since the 1980s and I know that several of my readers go back even further than that. During that time period I have only missed one birthday show and that was in 1994 when my youngest son was born. I would have to say that the Saturday night early show might have been the worst birthday show that I have ever attended. More on that later, but let me start off with Thursday night.
Thursday night featured Opry Country Classics at the Ryman Auditorium. The Ryman was about half full and for those who were in attendance, the show was excellent and very well done. Bill Cody from WSM was the host and if you have seen and heard him before, then you know he is energetic and has a great personality. Eddie Stubbs was the announcer and he did his usual good job.
The show started off with Jeannie Seely, who did 2 nice numbers. She was followed on stage by former Statler Brother Jimmy Fortune. Jimmy did 3 of the Statler Brothers hits that he had written including "Elizabeth" and "More Than A Name On The Wall." He was in great voice and did an excellent job. Rebecca Lynn Howard was up next and did the great Connie Smith song, "Once A Day", along with a second number. Then came one of the highlights of the night and that was the great Leroy Van Dyke. He looked and sounded great. I cannot believe that he just had his 82nd birthday. He had on black pants, a black shirt and a bright orange jacket. He did 3 number including his 2 great hits, "Walk On By" and "The Auctioneer". He taked for a few moments about his on-line school for auctioneers and how he first came to the Opry in 1959.
After a 15 minute intermission, Janie Fricke was next and she looked absolutely great. I saw her on the Opry about 15 years ago and her voice is as good as it ever was. She has a new CD out where she re-recorded her hits in a bluegrass style. She did a great job on "Why Me Lord". Rebecca Lynn Howard did another song and then it was time for the spotlight artist and that was Charley Pride. Charley looked and sounded great. He did his hits including "Is Anybody Going To San Antone", along with "Crystal Chandeliers" and "Kiss An Angel Good Morning." All in all, it was a very good show.
The Friday Night Opry was back at the Opry House and the main level seating was filled, along wth the lower balcony. The show was pretty good although I thought the crowd was a little "flat". Mike Snider hosted the 1st segment and actually told more jokes than you usually get out of him. Lately he seems to be concentrating on his music. Jim Ed Brown was next up and did a nice job on a couple of numbers including "Scarlet Ribbons". Jason Michael Carroll was Mike's final guest and was good. He made the mistake of signing a couple of autographs on stage, which I am sure he heard about when he was done, but over all did a good job. He is another of those young talents that is trying to make a career in the business. Mike finished out the segment with another musical number.
Jimmy Dickens hosted the 2nd segment and he looked and sounded very good. In fact, he looked better than I have seen him in a while and while not trying to jump ahead, my wife was watching the televised portion on Saturday night, and she even said he looked pretty good. Jimmy C Newman was the 1st guest and did one cajun number and then Crystal Bowersox of American Idol fame was out. She did a ballad song with just her guitar and then was joined by her husband on the 2nd number. She sounded ok, but I really don't think she is a true country singer. Jimmy then closed out his portion of the show with the usual jokes about his wife and then it was intermission time.
After intermission, Charley Pride hosted the next segment. He was dressed in the same shirt and pants that he wore Thursday night and did the same opening song, "Kiss An Angel Good Morning". That was expected as it was one of his big hits. Jack Greene was next. Jack looked and sounded great, but you can tell he is aging. And, he appears to have lost his eyesite. He was led out to his spot on the stage and stood there. He did "There Goes My Everything" and transitioned into "Statue Of A Fool". He stumbled on the words between the songs and looked to his guitar player who I could see saying the words to him. But other than that little misstep, he nailed it and received a partial standing ovation from the crowd. After he was done, he just stood there for a minute like he was unsure what to do, but then in a very nice jester, Charley came over and guided him off the stage. Next up was Mandy Barnett, who did a meet and greet in the Opry shop before the show. If you have Facebook, you will see a picture of me and her on my page. She did 2 songs from her "Sweet Dreams" CD, which is out on the Opry label. Charley finished up with a final number.
The final segment was hosted by Ricky Skaggs and no, he did not get a haircut. He did a Stanley Brothers song and then brought on Connie Smith. Connie did 2 songs including "Once A Day". She sounded great, but looked a little ragged, like she was getting over a cold. The Whites then did a number and finished with "It's A Big Wheel", with Ricky helping out. Then the cake was brought out, with only Mandy Barnett and The Whites a part of it. Happy Birthday was sung and the Friday Night Opry was over. I would say it was a pretty good show.
Saturday Night's Grand Ole Opry featured the formal Opry induction of Rascal Flatts. Both shows were sold out and the crowd was very into both shows. As I mentioned above, the birthday show did not seem up to the standard of past years. For one thing, only 9 artists were on the schedule so I was expecting maybe something special happening as part of the induction. So were several others that I talked to. But no, nothing extra happened.
Jimmy Dickens hosted the 1st segment and he sounded just as good as he did on Friday night. Jimmy C Newman was out next and then Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys. When listening to Chuck's new group, you would have thought you were listening to his old group, BR5-49. Not only that, but he played for free as part of the Opry Plaza Party before the show outside the Opry House. Chuck did do a nice job. The 2nd segment was hosted by Jeannie Seely, and featured The Whites and Charley Pride. They segment ended a little early as they had to get ready for the television portion, which was the final hour. In fact, there was about a 5 minute wait between the 2nd segment and the television portion.
If you watched on GAC or listened on WSM, then you know the televised portion started off with Rascal Flatts. They did their opening number and then Nan Kelley from GAC came out on stage and introduced the show to the television audience. Rascal Flatts then did another number and the show was off and running. It seemed like they turned up the noise level in the Opry House as the music seemed much, much louder then it did in the opening hour of the Opry. Craig Morgan was out and did 3 songs, 2 of which were on the televised portion. While they were running the interviews on GAC, the Opry Staff Band did a total of 3 numbers through out the show. That seemed a bit too many. Ronnie Dunn did 2 songs and while he did a nice job on them, from a personal standpoint, I just did not care for him. Just me as I know others enjoyed Ronnie.
Rascal Flatts was out next and after their song there was a video by George Bush that was nicely done. Pete Fisher came out to do the induction with Jimmy Dickens. Like I said before, I was expecting more and it just never happened. In looking at Jimmy standing on the stage, it almost seemed to me that he didn't want to be there. I am sure that was not the case, but he just looked it. The 3 members of Rascal Flatts gave their thanks, but they ran long and I know it was cut short on television. If you know from past birthday celebrations, then you know that traditionally they would cut to a commercial and then come back for a final segment of the cake being rolled out and Happy Birthday being sung. But, they rolled the cake out during the commercial break to no announcement in the Opry House. Besides the artists on the televised portion, I could see Jim Ed Brown, Vince Gill and I think Charley Pride up on stage. Yep, Vince was there with the cake but there was no introduction of Vince and he kind of stood off in the back. He might have been scheduled to come out and do a final song with Rascal Flatts, but the timing of the show was very bad and the show did not have a good flow to it. It just seemed disjointed. Anways, they came back from the commercial, sang Happy Birthday, let off the balloons and at some point during that time, the televised portion ended. After Happy Birthday, that was it and almost exactly at 9 the show was over. It just kind of ended suddenly.
The 2nd show started at 9:30 and it was much better than the first. I think televising an hour of the Opry just messes up the show. As I have pointed out before, it just seems like you are watching two separate shows, a one hour pre-show and then the televised show. Anyways, when the 2nd show started, I think only about half the crowd had made it into the Opry House. With the Opry not used to having 2 sold out shows on a Saturday night, as they don't have many weeks with 2 shows anymore and certainly not 2 sold out shows, they did not handle the crowd very well and had trouble moving the people in. I know when I walked back in around 9:30, the ticket takers at the door had stopped scanning the tickets and we just letting people walk in as fast as they could.
Jimmy Dickens hosted the 1st segment of the 2nd show and opened with "Mountain Dew". George Hamilton IV did "Abilene" with George the 5th, and Ronnie Dunn was out doing the same 2 songs he did on the 1st show. After the commercial, Jimmy said there was someone in back just hanging around and needed to do some work, so he was giving up his 2nd song and brought out Vince Gill, to a great ovation. He did "Look At Us." Very nice job.
Charley Pride hosted the 2nd segment and had Bobby Osborne and his group on, and among their 2 songs, he did "Rocky Top". Chuck Mead finished out the segment. Jim Ed Brown hosted the 3rd segment and did "Pop-A-Top" and was great. Jan Howard was his first guest and they featured the Opry singers, although Jim Ed called them the Carol Lee Singers. Carol Lee is still not there and has been gone from the Opry since around March. Hopefully, she will be back some day. Craig Morgan did 2 nice songs and it was noted that it was his 3rd anniversary as an Opry member. The Square Dancers did their usual job with Earl White and Charlie Collins. They attempted to get Craig Morgan out to dance, but he took a couple of steps and that was it. Jim Ed finished with "The Three Bells".
Jeannie Seely hosted the final segment and opened with "Ode To Billy Jo". Her only guest were Rascal Flatts and they again talked about their Opry membership and did 3 songs. Then Jeannie came back and ended the show without a final number, as they finished up right on time at 11:30. Overall, I thought the 2nd show on Saturday night was the best of the bunch.
The Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree was hosted by the Quebe Sisters. If you like western swing then you would love them. The theater was full and I saw Jim Ed Brown and Jan Howard hanging around the back during the show. Not sure, but Jeannie Seely might have been there also.
The Opry did have a new edition of the Opry's Picture History Book on sale. Now what was odd, and I thought not fair to the people who were there on Friday night, on that night they were still selling the old book, while on Saturday night the new book was being sold. The new book was updated to add the Oak Ridge Boys and Rascal Flatts and Wilma Lee Cooper, Billy Grammer and Charlie Louvin had been removed. The Carol Lee Singers were still pictured with Carol Lee, so that is why I thought maybe she might be back some day.
That covers the weekend in Nashville and at the Opry. Even though the birthday show was not as good as in past years, and that is just my opinion, it is still great to go to the Opry and to see the show. And I plan at being at the birthday show next year. To those who I saw and talked with, thanks for being there and thanks for taking the time to chat. I just wished we could have done it longer as I always enjoy meeting the readers of the blog and sharing Opry stories and gossip. We just have to do it more often then once a year. Thanks again to everyone.