This weekend I had the honor of being in Nashville and at the Grand Ole Opry for Jim Ed Brown's 50th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. I know many of us made comments over the past several weeks about the Opry's lack of publicity for this special event and wondering what the Opry would do to honor Jim Ed, along with Maxine and Bonnie. We'll, let me tell you that in my opinion, the Opry did a very nice job. Or as I told Pete Fisher as we passed each other backstage, "Nice job honoring Jim Ed. You did it right."
During the 1st show, Jim Ed hosted the 3rd segment. Mike Terry did a nice job announcing that Jim Ed and The Browns joined the Opry on August 10, 1963 and continued with some very nice comments as the curtain went up. Jim Ed was at center stage and the crowd responded with some very nice applause. He then kicked into "Pop A Top." He had his entire group out with him. After finishing and making a few comments, he introduced Helen Cornelius, and they did "I Don't Want to Have to Marry You." They sounded great together and Helen looked very nice. Then Jim Ed introduced Bobby Bare. Bobby did "Detroit City' and he looked and sounded great. Jim Ed made some great comments regarding his friendship with Bobby and noted that they were long time label mates at RCA. After the commercial, Maxine and Bonnie came out. They stood at the side of the stage. I had a chance before the show to congratulate Bonnie and she was very friendly and outgoing (as usual). Maxine had assistance to walk out, with Pete Fisher helping her. (let me add that Pete was awesome in helping and assisting Maxine). They talked for a bit and Jim Ed told the story about how difficult it was to get Maxine to come to Nashville and how much he really wanted her there. Maxine basically took over at that point and she was just so great. Jim Ed, Bonnie and Maxine all said that they had not sung together for over 6 years and Maxine had vocal problems and could not sing. They went to a commercial and Jim Ed was again at center stage with his group and Pete Fisher was introduced. The backdrop showed some pictures of Jim Ed through the years while Pete had some very nice comments and presented Jim Ed with the gold railroad watch. The audience stood for what seemed like a 1 or 2 minute standing ovation and Jim Ed was moved to tears. He had trouble speaking and thanking the audience. Jim Ed then talked about his new single, produced by Bobby Bare, "In Style Again". While Jim Ed sang the song, a video of Jim Ed over the years was played on the Opry's video screens. At the end of the song, there was another long standing ovation. A very nice segment that honored Jim Ed very nicely.
During the 2nd show, the segment was basically the same, with Jim Ed and Helen doing the same songs, while Bobby Bare did "Margie's At The Lincoln Park Inn" (which I might add is my favorite Bobby Bare song). While Pete helped out Maxine during the 1st show, Eddie Stubbs did the honors for the 2nd show. And yes, I heard the joke and comments made by Maxine and it totally brought down the house. It has been a long time since I have seen that kind of a reaction at the Opry. (I am sure that the FCC will be calling this week). While Maxine was making those comments, I happened to look over at Pete Fisher, who was standing in his usual spot on the side of the stage, and his reaction was the same as the audiences. His mouth was hanging open and he was laughing like the rest of the folks. Nobody seemed offended. The band members were laughing so hard they had trouble holding their instruments. It was a classic Opry moment and it was Maxine being Maxine. (For those who did not hear the comment she made, it was a reference to Obama care and the word ended with ..it, and I am sure it was the first time in the Opry's history that word got out on the air).
Prior to the show, there was a private reception for Jim Ed and his family backstage that was attended by many of the Opry's members. I saw Melvin Sloan there, and he is looking great. Also attending was Colin Reed, the CEO of Ryman Hospitalities, who was kind enough to pose for a picture for me with Jim Ed, and Steve Buchanan. I thought I also saw Charlie Monk there, along with a lot of other folks. As much as it was Jim Ed's night, Maxine and Bonnie seemed to be the center of attention. They seemed to know everybody and shared a dressing room that had visitors all night. I kept thinking that it might be the last time we see all 3 of them together at the Opry again. I am glad I was there.
As far as the rest of Saturday night's shows, both were sold out as you would expect with Carrie Underwood as the star attraction. While she may not be what many of us consider country, she did a very nice job and as I have mentioned before, I appreciate that fact that she actually comes out and does the Opry.
A few other random comments regarding a few things that I saw:
Some have mentioned in the comments that Jeannie Seely seems to be talking a lot when hosting and taking up air time. I think what she is doing is maybe in a way replacing Jimmy Dickens, in the sense that she is an Opry veteran and in that capacity, letting her tell a few jokes and talk for a bit longer than the other hosts. And speaking of Jimmy, no news on him. Nobody seemed to know anything.
For those who listened to Bobby Osborne doing "Ruby" on the 2nd show, it was classic. Yes, he did struggle. And, The Willis Clan is very, very talented. There was at least a dozen of them running all over the place, and while I have not seen it, they have a show on GAC. These kids have a future in this business.
And last, but not least, there is Larry Gatlin, who hosted a segment on each show. Let's just say that the Opry needs more folks like Larry Gatlin at the Opry. The guy is so enthusiastic and never stops moving. During his opening number, "Houston", he was out in the audience dancing with females and just having lots of fun. During commerical breaks he is all over the backstage area. On the 2nd show, he took off his jacket and was going full tilt with the square dancers. And he was that way backstage. He brings energy to the show. I wish more of the Opry's older members would be like him. During the high point of his career, he hardly ever did the Opry. He was out touring and too busy. He had his personal issues, which I am so glad that he has overcome. Now, as his career is in decline and his touring is cut back, he is at the Opry more. I think it started when he signed up to host the Opry Country Classics on Thursday nights, back in 2010. I think he found out he liked it and enjoyed coming out to the Opry. Pretty soon, he was coming out not only on Thursday, but on Friday and Saturday. Over the past year, his appearances have almost doubled. With so many of the Opry's members not coming out, he is needed and I am glad for whatever the reasons are, he is responding. Thanks Larry!!
A quick word on the Friday Night Opry. I made it down in time and went to the show. The lower level was mostly filled, while the balcony just had people in the lower sections. Joey+Rory were great and they need to be Opry members. So much talent and well liked. While Marshall Chapman is not classic country, she was very good in her tribute to Cowboy Jack Clement. At the age of 64, this was her first Opry appearance. TG Sheppard and Billy Dean were both ok. Riders In The Sky were very funny, as usual. Kelleigh Bannen and Kalisa Ewing, in my humble opinion, could have stayed home. They added nothing to the show. Overall, I would rate Friday a C+.
Now some final thoughts on this whole business of honoring Opry members and their anniversaries. In the past, the Opry would honor an artist on their 50th anniversary as an Opry member. Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl, Bill Monroe, Grandpa Jones, Porter Wagoner, Loretta Lynn and Bill Anderson all had entire segments dedicated to them. In the case of the early ones, since the Opry was being televised they were featured on that segment. In the case of Jean Shepard, Jimmy C Newman, Charlie Louvin and George Hamilton, it was a handshake during their appearance and a chance to sing a 2nd song.(in the case of Jean and Jimmy C, the Opry was still being televised on GAC and they didn't even rate the television portion). I think that is why all of us were wondering what Jim Ed Brown would get. He got the half hour treatment, and in my opinion, they all should. Not too may make it that long. They next to make it to 50 will be Jesse McReynolds in March 2014, with Bobby Osborne to follow in August. But the Opry needs to be consistent in how they honor their members. I know there is a pecking order, and in the Opry's view the Hall of Fame members get the better treatment. Regardless, it is a great accomplishment and they all should be recognized the right way.
To wrap it up, Jim Ed hosted the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree. It was a great show. The place was packed with people standing in the back and in the shop. The show lasted more than an hour and Jim Ed did a number of his songs, as did Helen Cornelius. Maxine and Bonnie joined Jim Ed, from their front row seats, and did a verse of "The 3 Bells." After the show there was cake and all 3 signed autographs well into the night. It was a great way to end the weekend.
Congratulations again to Jim Ed, Maxine and Bonnie and thanks to Pete Fisher and the Grand Ole Opry for honoring Jim Ed and letting Maxine and Bonnie be a part of it.