Just to follow up on what my friend Barry commented on, I thought I would add some of my thoughts:
I go back to the comment that Pete Fisher made in 2001, "There is no longer a membership only approach in booking the show."
That is fine and as much as I enjoy going to the Opry and listening to the show each week, I do enjoy the variety. Nothing against Bobby Osborne, but how many weeks in a row can he sing "Rocky Top?" And I agree that in the 1980s and 1990s, the show was getting old and was more like a living museum of country music than a contemporary show. With so many of the same members performing each week, there were very few guest artists or younger acts performing.
But if you are going to have members, then have members who are going to appear on the show and allow those members who want to be on the show each week that opportunity. There are not that many legends left, maybe a dozen. Let them enjoy what is left of their performing careers and their time in the spotlight. The younger fans do enjoy the veterans and treat them with a lot of respect, and as long as you mix in the younger acts, everyone is fine.
But the issue is membership. I do think that while Pete Fisher is asking new members for 10 show a year, at the same time he is telling them no more than 10 shows a year, if that makes sense. If you look at all of the members he has brought on board since 1999, 7-10 shows per year is the average. I know that there was a case a year or so ago when Josh Turner, one of Pete's newer members, wanted to do the Opry one night and was actually on the Opry's upcoming schedule. He was called and told that they didn't need him that night. And that is one of the Opry's more popular younger acts.
At the same time, the Opry is doing things to merge the line on who is a member and who is not, so that the average younger fan of country music, doesn't really know. I have a few examples: for years, the Opry sold a small program at each show for 50 cents that included the names and a brief sentence on each Opry member. On the Opry's website, they not only have biographies of members listed, but also dozens and dozens of guest artists. Outside of a line by there name that says, "Opry member since.....", there is no real difference. Also on the website, there is more promotion of projects by non-Opry members than members. For weeks, The Band Perry was highlighted on the site, and not only are they not members, but they rarely appear on the Opry. I think that the only place you will find a list of just Opry members is the Picture History Book that is sold at the Opry House.
Barry is right that there are a lot of shows that have "B" and "C" class talent. Nothing against Jimmy Wayne, Rebecca Lynn Howard or Andy Gibson (who are on this week's schedule), but would anybody pay up to $60 to see them individually or as a group in concert? 2 nights ago I could have gone and seen Toby Keith and 2 opening acts in concert for $25 at Blossom Music Center. The Opry will tell you that you are not paying to see individual acts as much as to have the entire Opry experience. That is fine and I understand that, but at some point you have to have enough of the "A" acts to justify the price. And let's face it, this is not the Opry that many of us grew up to love. As times have changed, the Opry has changed.
Back to the membership question that Barry originally raised. I do think that for a lot of these artists, Opry membership is more of a symbol than an actual commitment. Something that they can point to, which makes them feel good, and something that is mentioned in interviews and other articles, which makes the Opry feel good. It's a win for both of them. And if they don't show up to perform on the show, the Opry has other acts that they can call and schedule, member or not.
But as an old-timer, I do wish that the Opry would enforce the membership requirement and add members who will be there. Those who attend the show and buy tickets do deserve that. Rhonda Vincent, Dailey & Vincent, Crystal Gayle and Gene Watson, just to mention a few, are several of those who make more Opry appearances a year than a majority of the members.
I find it interesting that they will limit the appearances of some one like Josh Turner to 10 or less, but at the same time they feel it is ok to schedule non-members such as Mandy Barnett, Sarah Darling, Jimmy Wayne or Chris Janson, up to 20 shows per year. That part of it doesn't make sense to me.