This past weekend I was in Nashville and attended the Friday Night Opry along with the 2 Grand Ole Opry shows on Saturday night that honored Marty Stuart on his 20th anniversary as an Opry member. Before commenting on the Opry shows, which I thought were pretty good, Nashville was in the holiday spirit over the weekend. Out at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, the area was decorated for Christmas and looked beautiful. The lights and tree were impressive. Traffic was horrible at dinner time as the Radio City Rockets had their show taking place at the Grand Ole Opry House, Lorrie Morgan's holiday dinner show was taking place, the cars were driving through the Opryland area to look at the holiday lights and the Mall parking lot was gridlock. In a way, I am glad that the Opry was taking place at the Ryman Auditorium instead of the Opry House.
The Friday Night Opry was basically a sell-out. There were a few single seats available and standing room only tickets were being sold. The show was good. As you would expect at this time of the year, several of the artists did Christmas songs, and George Hamilton IV was impressive doing "The Christmas Guest" in honor of Grandpa Jones. George has done this each year since Grandpa passed away and always does a fine job. Obviously for the younger fans, Scotty McCreery was the highlight. He promoted his Christmas album and did a fine job. Just 2 songs which was a surprise as I thought he might come back for an encore. This was the first time that I saw Kristen Kelly and I thought she did a nice job. To me, the headliner was Charley Pride. Charley was fine, although I thought he has aged a bit since I last saw him. But, he is 74 now so I guess that is expected. As far as some of the Opry's veterans, Jean Shepard looked pretty good, no worse than when I saw her in October. She sounded great. Jimmy Dickens on the other hand, still sounds pretty rough. He looked good and showed good energy on the stage. Bill Anderson, The Whites, Jeannie Seely and Jesse McReynolds were fine. It was Bobby Osborne's 81st birthday Friday night, and Bill Anderson and Eddie Stubbs have Bobby a nice tribute, talking about his service during the Korean War. He received the only standing ovation of the night.
Saturday night's 1st show was sold-out. Overall, I thought the show was a good one, although it seemed like the first hour moved a little slow at times. The final hour with Marty Stuart was worth the money. Regarding the final hour, Marty did his usual great job. I was very impressed with Brandy Clark. I think she has a lot of potential in the music business, both as an artist and a songwriter. I am a fan of Old Crow Medicine Show and this was the first time I have seen them. Outstanding is the word to describe them. Full of energy and the crowd was into them. I know Marty has asked Chief Phyliss Anderson and the Choctaw Dancers to be part of the show, and they were fine. They seemed a little nervous during the first show and more relaxed during the second. Charley Pride rushed through 2 songs and Connie Smith was good. Connie danced with the Square Dancers, and Marty did a few steps himself.
As far as the rest of the show, which ran over by about 10 minutes, Jimmy Dickens sounded worse than he did on Friday night and forgot the words to his song. He tried to cover it by telling some jokes during the song, and he did get back to finish the song. Jan Howard did a nice job, as did the Del McCoury Band. Ricky Skaggs did Bill Monroe's "Christmas Time's A Comin'" and Bill would have been proud. All in all, a very nice show.
The 2nd show was about half full at the Ryman, and they rushed through the 1st hour, In fact, I think the first two segments lasted about 40 minutes. Jimmy Dickens cancelled out so Ricky Skaggs hosted the segment with Jimmy C Newman as his only guest. And Jimmy C did only one song. I can't believe with only 1 guest for the segment that Jimmy, who drove all the way in from Brentwood, only was allowed to do 1. Terrible!! The 2nd segment had just Bill Anderson and Del McCoury. Del at least did 2 songs, including "Blue Christmas", which he did on the first show also. Marty Stuart's segment did last an hour and followed the same format as the first show, with the exception of Charley Pride and Connie Smith switching places.
I know in watching the shows, several of us thought that maybe Marty would bring out a surprise guest or two, with the name Travis Tritt bounced around, but it was not to be. All in all, it was a good evening.
After the Opry, I headed out to the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree, which originally was supposed to be an archived show featuring the Chuck Wagon Gang. Instead, on Friday it was announced that Jett Williams would be hosting a live show. I got to the shop right after the show started and when I walked into the theater, I was a bit surprised. I counted just 29 people sitting and watching the show.(by the way, that is not the lowest I have seen. Many years back on a night Charlie Louvin hosted in January, there were 7 people in attendance). A few more did show up as the show continued, but there were not many there. Makes me wonder why do a live show with no promotion. I am a bit concerned about the Midnight Jamboree. To go basically 3 months with taped shows is not a good way to keep it going. I know winter can be tough and I do enjoy some of the older shows they play, but I think you have to keep the live music going.
All in all, it was a good weekend to be in Nashville. Although it rained, the weather was fine. As always when the Ryman is involved, the atmosphere was good. The only 2 things that ruined it for me were first, they are using the Opry House backdrop in the Ryman instead of the older backdrop that they used to use. I thought the older backdrop lended itself to the atmosphere at the Ryman. The second, an not a new issue, is the fact that you have to pay for parking downtown and walk some distance to the Ryman. Not all bad, but I just hate paying to park!! Also, it is hard to get people in and out quickly between shows.
Like I said, it was a good weekend at the Opry and as always, well worth the trip.