Monday, October 10, 2011

Observations & Thoughts Regarding the Opry's 86th Birthday Bash

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.


  1. Thanks for a GREAT report.

    I listened to the first hour Saturday night and watched part of the second hour. I share your feelings about the TV portion. The problem I have with it is that they claim to be showing the Opry, but it isn't the Opry. Which strikes me as a problem. They're trying to reach new audiences, which I understand. So the new audiences watch it and think, oh, that's the Opry, I should check it out. If they show up, they don't see anything resembling the TV portion. That hurts more than helps.

    Leroy sounded great Thursday night, and it's good to know he still looks great. One of my mother's favorites.

  2. I was very surprised & disappointed that the clock wasn't better managed with Rascal Flatts induction speeches. That Jay was cut off even before he started to accept his membership & tell everyone what it meant to him - was at best awful & I was mad they cut him off. Even Nan Kelley was off and I like her. I have since watched the speeches which were very heartfelt - now all they have to do is show up! Hell, I can say that about most of the members. The Opry used to have the inductions at 30 past the hour & I am sure they are always trying to make every induction special & different from the others - but when one of the performers being inducted was cut off for another commercial they need to go back to the drawing board. I have been watching the Opry for so many years & have taped ALL Opry invites/inductions since Marty Stuart, you name the artist, I've got his/her invite/induction on tape - except the last few not shown on TV - i.e. Montgomery Gentry. I have driven to Nashville from Chicago for Trace Adkins, Josh Turner & Carrie Underwood's Opry inductions - all were great - Saturday night - it was really off - they hurried the cake presentation & there was barely anyone on the stage - am I the only one that thought Pete Fisher could have done a better job at rounding up the other performers & asking them to walk on stage so that everyone could sing Happy Birthday - just not good planning? It is what I have come to expect from the Opry and GAC. Too bad the Opry doesn't have any takers - must be too expensive to produce. Well, the Opry does have the option of streaming it live online not sure of that expense. The Opry just isn't what it used to be and it is sad. I now consider Marty Stuart's show my Saturday night Opry show - he's so good & so are all the guests & his band and what is not to LOVE about Connie Smith & Eddie Stubbs? Just very disappointed that GAC isn't carrying the Opry like it once did - and GAC makes this huge splash announcement a few weeks ago saying "the Opry is back" & then as if in small letters - "for six shows in October." So underwhelmed by it all ....

  3. Anonymous (we'd love to know who you are!), Marty had to have the most unforgettable induction speech because he referred to older fans with a term of affection that did not go over well--"old" followed by a word that might not make it onto the site, so let's just say it's more often used to describe breaking wind. I was hysterical. A couple of weeks later, he went on the Backstage show and sheepishly apologized, saying he meant well, which I know he did. I also think of the Charlie Pride induction when he read a telegram from Henry Cannon about how proud he and Minnie were and how proud Mr. Acuff would be, and he started crying in the middle of reading it. Just a lovely moment.

  4. So what has happened to Carol Lee? Is she the latest "old-timer" who is expendable and no longer needed (Leon Rhodes, Buddy Harmon, Ralph Davis, Keith Bilbrey, Holly Dunn) or did she get fed-up and quit like Spider Wilson & Jeanne Pruett? Ironic that Rascal Flatts are now members of the Opry when their bubble gum, boy band pop music is a big reason why the Opry is in decline. Yes, the Opry has to have new members, has to keep up with the times but a lot of the charm of what made it special is gone. Just because it's on the Opry anymore certainly does not mean it's country music. One last thought... I realize so many of the decisions made in music in general are made for economic reasons, but it's sure a sad day when the Opry barely resembles the Opry of 10 years ago, let alone the Opry of its heyday. Sure hate to see them wreck it just for a silly cable TV network that's only interested in selling records to people who think 70s pop is country music.

  5. I am very concerned about GAC's effect on the 'Opry. I can't justify paying what the 'Opry charges to hear the staff band. WSM loses all control and the show loses all flow when GAC takes over.
    (Add Joe Edwards to our list of expendable old timers.)
    I am tickled to death that Rascal Flats has joined the 'Opry. We need more young groups to "pack the house."

  6. The Tuesday 'Opry lasted 1 hour and 51 minutes (not counting the intermission).
    A grand total of 22 songs were performed, including 4 by the staff band, who played more songs than any other act.
    Cody and Stubbs are absolutely great, but they can only generate so much enthusiasm when there are so many ads and so little music.
    Give the paying customer a full length show with lots of music and fewer ads.
    GAC and corporate greed are hurting the 'Opry.

  7. Nat, I listened to the Tuesday Night Opry also and I noticed the same things. While I do enjoy the Opry staff band and believe they are great musicians, I don't think they need to be featured 3 or 4 times during a televised show when they are on a commercial break. For people who are paying $55 for a seat in the Opry House, they start feeling they are not getting their money's worth. To me, pay the extra money and bring in one of the legends or veterans to perform a song or two. Even if GAC has no desire to show them on television, at least the Opry audience will be entertained.

    As far as the comment regarding Carol Lee Cooper, without going into any more details here, what I have head is that she has not been fired or anything like that. She is still pictured in the new Opry History Picture Book that came out on Saturday. There is legitimate reason why she has not been on since March. And, I did hear that she was backstage the Saturday after Wilma Lee died. Not singing, but there for the tribute.

    It goes without saying that the timing for the Saturday night GAC broadcast was way off. And considering that they rehearse that part of the show during the afternoon, there is no excuse. I think what happened is that the first of the induction speeches ran long and that messed things up. I did see Pete Fisher wisper to Jimmy Dickens to keep his comments short, which he did. But, that is what happens when you put the inductions at the end of the broadcast instead of in the middle like it should have been. They only have themselves to blame and that is what happens when you allow an outsider(GAC) to control the show for that one hour.

  8. One more comment regarding the televised broadcasts on GAC. In my mind, leave the Saturday shows alone as that is the true Opry. Let GAC show live, or tape the Tuesday Night Opry and let them do with that show what they want. I know they taped the George Jones birthday show and that was fine. It allowed them to edit it and make it more presentable for television.

    Just a thought.

  9. I lied, I have one more comment. First, I echo Mike's comment--anonymous, you have some great comments.

    Regarding getting the performers out on stage for the birthday cake rollout, which they also messed up on Saturday night, it is not so much an issue of getting the performers to come out (although many would prefer not), but it is a money issue.

    What I was told from a reliable source, and I am going on his opinion, he believed the reason the practice of having almost all of the Opry's performers coming out with the cake stopped, was because they would have to be paid under the union contract for being on the televised portion, since they were up on the stage and actually singing Happy Birthday. I am not 100% sure if that is the case or not, and I do have a copy of the Opry's union contract, and while it is not specifically mentioned in there, I can kind of believe it. Especially since we know that Gaylord is famous for trying to cut costs and increase their profitablility at the show.

  10. I'll add in that Vic Willis was one of the union negotiators for years and he said it was always a fight to get decent money for doing the Opry. The management argued that you were promoting yourself on a radio show listened to in 38 states, and now throw in the internet.

    As for TV, when TNN started doing it, they basically just rolled in cameras to show 30 minutes of the radio show. With the move to other networks, the approach changed and it was more like--get ready for the weird historical parallel--the old Prince Albert radio shows, which had scripts and guest hosts. But those shows did have the essence of the Opry, and these TV portions don't. I also agree with Byron--taping Tuesday night would be a good idea.

    I had the crazy suggestion that they go back to a 2:30 show and make the last half hour a concert by a big name, and show THAT.