This past weekend I was in Nashville and attended both the Friday Night Opry and the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night. It was a good weekend as both Opry shows were sold-out and the quality of the shows was pretty good. The crowds both nights were excited and seemed to really enjoy the shows.
The Friday Night Opry opened with John Conlee, Dailey & Vincent and Connie Smith for the 1st segment. All were in good form and sounded good. Dailey & Vincent have a nice bluegrass sound and I think someday they would make good Opry members. Connie did "Once A Day" and "Amazing Grace" and did a very good job on both numbers. George Hamilton IV hosted the 2nd segment, and his guests were Chris Janson and the Oak Ridge Boys. Chris is one of those young country singers and this was his 2nd time on the Opry. The younger fans knew who he was and he was loud and enthusiastic. He brought a lot of life to the show. The Oak Ridge Boys are well, the Oak Ridge Boys. I don't think they ever stand still on stage. They did 3 songs, including "Elvira" and "Bobbi Sue" before finishing with a gospel number. Since they did 3 songs, George IV did just an short version of "Break My Mind" to finish the 1st half of the show.
The 2nd half started with Ricky Skaggs, who was with Kentucky Thunder and did not do bluegrass, instead sticking to his traditional country sound. His first guest was another of the younger female singers, Jaida Dreyer. This was the 2nd time I have seen her on the Opry, and I am sorry but I was not impressed. She wore a short, tight dress and has the blonde dyed hair. It was nothing against her youth, I just did not like her voice and she rambled on too much before she started singing and between songs. Ricky's final guest was the great Gene Watson. He looked and sounded good. My only complaint was I wished they would have let him encore with one of his great hits. But he did 2 songs and Ricky finished it out. The final segment was hosted by Jeannie Seely, with Bobby Osborne and Alan Jackson as the guests. Bobby was limited to one song, which as usual was "Rocky Top." Alan did 3 songs and as you would expect, he was the star of the show. I do have 2 issues with Alan, First, he is an Opry member but only does the show once or twice a year. He needs to be there more. And second, when he came out to sing, there were about 20 or 25 rolled up shirts on the piano behind him and during his entire time on stage, he kept going back and throwing the shirts into the crowd. I have never seen that at the Opry before, and while the fans who caught the shirts were happy, it kind of distracted a bit from his singing. Jeannie closed out the show with a final number. Over all, it was an excellent show.
Saturday night I was able to go backstage and get a different perspective of the show. I have been back there before and always enjoy the time and seeing the artists behind the scenes. It also is great to get a chance to talk to a few of them. As far as backstage, The Marshall Tucker Band had Roy Acuff's dressing room #1, while Ricky Skaggs and #2. Jim Ed Brown and Jimmy C Newman were in Jimmy Dicken's room, while the other artists were scattered about. Also, George Hamilton IV was backstage. I was surprised to see him as he was not scheduled, but I found out that every night he is not on tour, he acts as the backstage host to the groups that pay the extra money for a backstage tour of the Opry House. He waits for the groups in the green room and talks to them about the Opry. He is the perfect one to do that with his great personality. A great decision by the management.
As far as the show, Jim Ed Brown hosted the first segment and had Kristen Kelly, Jimmy C Newman and Jean Shepard has his guests. Jim opened with "Pop-A-Top" which is always a treat. Kristen did 2 songs and sounded good on both, while Jimmy and Jean did one each. Jean looked ok and sounded good. Jeannie Seely hosted the 2nd segment and her first guest was Kayla Sloan, the Walmart cashier. She was very, very nervous and while I don't know how she sounded on the radio, in the Opry House she sounded very good. She did "Coal Miner's Daughter" and "Coat of Many Colors". She is really, really country. I hope if she has a career in music that some record company doesn't ruin her voice. The audience gave her a standing ovation. Marshall Tucker Band followed and they were great. I know they are "Southern Rockers" but they sounded and looked more country than most of those who were on the show. They had the crowd in their hands and they brought Kayle out to sing "Can't You See" with them. A very special Opry moment.
After intermission, John Conlee hosted, with Jan Howard doing one number and then Charles Esten coming out and doing a couple. He introduced Connie Britton, who was backstage visiting. He sounded good and he did hang around backstage until after the show. Ricky Skaggs closed out the night, again doing bluegrass, with James Wesley and The Whites each doing 2 songs. James Wesley is young and does sound country, and The Whites, are well, The Whites. A nice job by all.
The Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree was hosted by The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band, and they did a nice job. I would estimate about a hundred people there. It started on time and ended on time, with no special guests.
As far as a few other observations, Jimmy Dickens was again absent. He was on the schedule when it was released on Wednesday, but by Thursday he was off. The word is that he has been battling the flu. The Opry programs that were given away that night still had Jimmy listed on the schedule and a few people in the audience were disappointed that he was not on. That is something I don't quite get. I know they print about 10,000 programs each weekend, but you would think they would wait until later Thursday to do the printing and cutting down on the errors. That was just one of several mistakes in the program.
On Saturday night, Joe Edwards, formally of the Grand Ole Opry Staff Band was visiting backstage. He still looks great and was funny and in good spirits. He was going around talking to all the musicians and they all seemed to appreciate the time spent with him. I can't believe he has been gone from the Opry for over 10 years now.
Another interesting item is that they have added Mrs Grissoms as the sponsor on the opening segment on Saturday night, along with RCC Western Boots as a sponsor on Friday night, but in the programs and on the video screens, they do not put up the company logos or acknowledge them in any way. I guess since they are not a presenting or "proud sponsor" of the Opry, they don't get the star treatment. But the Mrs. Grissoms theme music has the audience clapping along, and I think in some cases, singing along. It was fun to hear. Also, the Low T Test Center is out as a sponsor, although they still run their commercials before the show starts.
As far as the Hall of Fame, no news. I asked a few people about when an announcement might be coming or if there were any ideas, and nothing. In fact, some artists were asking others if they knew anything. Talk about keeping it under a hat.
I will finish with a little editorial: I know that many of been complaining about the Opry and that it isn't what it once was. That is true. But the Opry is what it is, a mixture of new artists, legends and superstars. And everytime I go to the Opry, and this time was no exception, when that big red curtain goes up, it is still the greatest show in the world. While I would like to see more of the legends, the fact is there are not many left. While we can enjoy them while they are still here, we need to embrace the new artists who, if there is an Opry in the future, will be a part of the show. It is kind of funny but in the 1960s, people were complaining when Bob Luman became a member, saying he was too rock n' roll. Yet now we look back and wonder where the Bob Luman's of the world are. Take it back even further and Pee Wee King was thought of as being too progressive. What I would give to hear him sing "Tennessee Waltz" again. I guess what I am saying is that times change and the Opry will change. We need to support it and give it a chance. While in Nashville, I asked several people if they thought the Opry would make it to 100. That is only 13 years away. Everyone said yes, but they worried as to what form it would be. It is hard to think, but when that time comes, Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, Vince Gill, Lorrie Morgan and many of those, who we think as the younger Opry members, will be pushing 70!! We have to ask, who are gonna fill their shoes?
If you get a chance, go to the Opry. Attendance is up, the crowds are coming and the shows are pretty good. Especially when sitting in the Opry House.