(from the Grand Ole Opry)
There are loyal fans, and then there are loyal fans.
The Grand Ole Opry will recognize its undisputed most loyal fan, Nashville's Paul Eckhart, this Saturday June 16. Eckhart will mark 40 years without having missed a single weekend of Opry performances, and the Opry plans to celebrate during the show by honoring him with its first ever Opry Fan Award along with other surprises when he and his family enjoy performances from the Opry's front row.
Eckhart began his Opry streak the day he and his family moved from Northeastern Pennsylvania to Nashville, visiting the Opry the night before his family had even unpacked. Paul credits the Opry not with just years of entertainment but with also having played a pivotal role in his happy marriage. For nearly as many years as he's been spending his weekends at the show that made country music famous, his wife has headed in a different direction to play bingo.
"Of course there have been some true standout moments over the past 40 years," Eckhart says, "but every Opry show has been special, each one has been different, and every single one of them has been entertaining. I can't imagine spending my weekends anywhere else other than the Grand Ole Opry."
"Paul is family," said Opry Vice President and General Manager Pete Fisher. "Like so many other Opry fans, he's built an amazing connection with the show and with the artists on the Opry stage. None of use can imagine looking out on a weekend Opry performance and not seeing Paul in the crowd. We hope to make this Saturday night's show his most memorable yet."
What a nice thing for the Opry to do. I have met Paul several times as I was first introduced to him by someone who follows this blog and I have known for several years (if he wishes to step forward, he certainly can). Each time I go to the Opry, I walk down to his seat in the front row of section 5 and just say hi.
Congratulations to Paul and I hope that this is the first in something that the Opry will do more often.