Monday, March 25, 2013

Observations From The Opry

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.


  1. On the radio side, Kayla Sloan sounded good. It felt to me as though Kayla basically stole the show.
    Glad to hear she got a standing ovation.
    She clearly "gets it" when it comes to what the 'Opry is all about.
    I'm excited to be going to 'Opry Country Classics and Friday night Opry early in April. Still a fantastic show.
    Thanks so much for the "felt like I was there" 'Opry report.

  2. Great update! Thanks.

    I got to hear the first half of both nights and I'll echo Byron's opinions.

  3. Hey Guys On The Hall Of Fame Because The Hall Of Fame Is Expanding This Year I Would Not Be Surprised At All That If We See Another Mass Induction This Year Just Like 2001 And Also Which 70s-80s Acts Do You Guys See Making It From The Modern Category In The Future Abd Which 70s-80s Acts Do You Guys See Making It From The Veterans Category In The Future Also?

  4. Fred, Bismarck:

    Thanks, Byron. Glad to hear of the sellouts, which (I agree) show that Gaylord is pleasing somebody with its approach. Especially impressive given the earliness of the season and the slow spring nationwide.

  5. I was not surprised that Friday night was sold out with Alan Jackson and the Oak Ridge Boys scheduled, but Saturday did surprise me as the line-up, while good, was not especially strong. The Marshall Tucker Band and Ricky Skaggs were the strongest on the schedule.

    What I did notice on both Friday and Saturday nights were the number of groups that were recognized. It seemed more than the usual number and several of them were students and younger folks, which is good to see. They were loud and make their presence known. They also seemed to have better seats than in the past. Usually groups are in the balcony or in the back of the main auditorium, but I noticed many of them were in sections 3, 4 and 5, which are the prime areas.

  6. Byron,

    Thanks for the detailed report on your Nashville trip.

    Great to hear that Joe Edwards is still welcome backstage. I always enjoyed his fiddle and guitar work on the Opry and no offense to anyone after Joe but he was the best at playing fiddle behind folks like Charlie Walker. Joe is a nice guy and hails from Bloomfield, Indiana not to far form where Nat Hill and I live. The staff band is still great and they have evolved and adapted for today’s music and still do a good job for the veterans. However, for my music style you couldn’t beat the band that Joe was part of when they were broken up. Joe, Leon, Spider, Jimmy Capps, Weldon, Billy Linnemen, Tim Atwood or Jerry Whitehurst and the Davis brothers and Buddy Harman were a tight group.

    I must confess that I am glad the Oak Ridge Boys became members. They are a great act and deserve all the accolades they have received over the years and at this point in Opry time they bring good things to the show and they seem to be interested in participating. I also must confess that for my musical taste they will always be second to the Statler Brothers but they are still a great act.

    Although I have a hard time accepting some of the changes in the music, I agree there is something magical about being in the house when the curtain goes up. As far as change, I agree there must be change and we should try to accept it. My main concern is that once those we are now calling legends or veterans are gone, there isn’t anyone big or small to carry on the style of music they take to the grave with them. Just like the comedy acts that have not been replaced and now that tradition is just about dead and so will be the 50’s-70’s sound once the veterans are gone.

    In thinking about sustaining the Opry in the future it brings us back to those members that do not show up. We have been hard here on those who have accepted membership and then fail to follow through and show up more than once a year…..or maybe once a decade……can we say Reba! I think we are justified because as Byron has said, you sign up for something then you should participate. I was just thinking that in bygone years many big names walked away from the Opry rather than abide by the rules and forfeit the income they would loose by meeting the requirements. Eddy Arnold, Hank Thompson, Webb Pierce and Faron Young and even Jimmy Dickens and Roy Acuff walked away at least for a time. The difference is that they broke ties and in no way did they use the Opry name nor the Opry theirs as far as I know. This brings me back to the importance, or lack of, membership today. I believe Fred or maybe Barry has stated their belief that the show is headed for four acts in four half hour segments. I agree that something like that seems likely and I wonder if that would be the end of membership. Is that a possible path to survival? Byron, do you think membership would ever be phased out or would it even be possible to do it in fair and legitimate way? Not saying I’m for that, just thinking aloud!

    I agree with Byron that the Opry is still worth supporting and anyone reading here who has not been should go and experience it soon before it further changes. That is not to say go now because it won’t be worth it later. Go now to get a taste of today and a glimpse of the past so if you go in the future you will have a better appreciation and understanding of the roots and tradition of the show.

    Knightsville, IN

  7. Just a few thoughts on Opry membership. I think that over the last 5 years at least, the Opry is thinking more of what new member will give the Opry the most publicity in the media rather than who might be best for the show in the long run. If you look at the recent members, you have Darius Rucker, Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, Blake Shelton, Oak Ridge Boys, Charlie Daniels and Carrie Underwood. All good performers, but probably not the most ideal Opry members. While Rhonda Vincent, Dailey & Vincent, Gene Watson and Tennessee Mafia Jug Band would be much better for the Opry in the long run, and would probably be more loyal as members, they would not bring that much publicity to the show. And publicity helps to create excitement and to draw the crowds.

    Look at the past weekend for example. Kayla Sloan, the Walmart cashier who has never had a record, was created as an overnight sensation on YouTube. Her dream was to be on the Opry. The Opry invited her, but look what it brought to the Opry. ABC News covered it in great detail before the show and during. Last night on ABC World News, she was a story. Jeannie Seely was shown introducing her, Loretta Lynn called her and in the center of it all was the Opry. Pete Fisher had to be smiling knowing that a few in the sold out crowd were there to see Kayla. And if they enjoyed the Opry, all the better as they will be back.

    When picking members such Urban, Underwood, Rucker, Shelton, etc., over Vincent, Watson, etc., I think it shows that the Opry is thinking more in the short term rather than long term. I think there will always be members, but the significance of being an Opry member will diminish.

  8. Best minute and a half of TV publicity the 'Opry has had in a while...
    (seems to work only in Internet Explorer for me)

  9. Byron, I have to agree with your statement of supporting the Opry. I'm not a big fan of most new country, but I understand the reason it needs to be there. In the long run, they (or at least the ones who manage to have some staying power) will be the lifeblood of the Opry.

    They also bring in younger fans, which is also an important ingredient. I love the Opry, and so does my family. We've developed a ritual on Saturday nights of tuning in via the iPhone app and the whole family sitting around the living room listening to the Opry. My kids are 2 and 4 and they love to listen (although they might not be a good gauge as they don't care for new country either :) ).

    I also agree that some of the members have probably been picked by virtue of what publicity they can bring. but I do think the flip side of that, from a business stand point is that they have picked people, like Alan Jackson who do once or twice a year, but it is almost guaranteed that those shows will sell out. If you spread enough of these part-timers out through the year you get enough sold out shows to help support the numbers for ad sales, and to bring in some money. Of course I don't have any firsthand knowledge of the business side of the Opry, so I could be way off.

    Unfortunately, I think you are right on the importance of being a member diminishing, but I think that is just the evolution of things. In the beginning people needed to be on the Opry because it sold tickets to other shows and they didn't have as many outlets to do that, especially ones with a 50,000 watt clearchannel. Now there are a lot more ways to promote yourself as an artist. but I think that has been gradually happening for years.

  10. I remember TIM Atwood from seeing him play at Applachian Lake in W.V. It was 1978.. I still have his album , The Gems .....

  11. TIM Atwood is my Gem !!!!!!!!
    From:: Mickey Mouse ....1978