I somewhat hesitate in offering my comments on the Grand Ole Opry's 88th birthday weekend, as I read some of the comments that have already been made and found almost off of them right on with my own thoughts. As you would expect, the weekend had its good and bad moments. More on that in a minute, but first I wanted to thank all of you who have been reading the blog and especially those who offer their comments. Sometimes I do wonder if anyone is reading. Well, not to brag, but I do have a counter on the blog and since I started this in 2009, the blog has been viewed just over 279,500 times, and in the past 30 days, has been viewed just under 14,000 time, Wow!! And many thanks.
I also want to say thanks to all of those I met during the Opry's birthday weekend. It's nice to see who the readers of the blog are and it's also nice to know that there are others out there who share my love and appreciation of the Opry. I have said it before, it is not easy some days being an Opry fan or listening to the Opry. But it still has its magic moments and to me, it is still the best country music show out there. Thanks again. Now for the birthday weekend:
As several of you have already mentioned, the Friday Night Opry was good. Among those who I thought did very well were The Steeldrivers, who have always impressed me with their energy and musical skills. They have been guests at the Opry before and always do a fine job. Jesse McReynolds has had some health issues lately, but you would not have known it seeing and hearing him. He again did a fine Grateful Dead number from the album that Jessie says has sold more than any other album that he has done, and he showed that at the age of 84, he has not lost any of his skills. In March, he will be celebrating 50 years as an Opry member. Crystal Gayle and Kathy Mattea again showed why they should be Opry members. They both enjoy the Opry and are always entertaining. This was the second time that I have seen The Secret Sisters, and they have also been impressive both times I have seen them perform. Very simple with their vocals, and they also keep the music simple. And not to forget Mark Wills, who always does a nice job. The hosts for each segment, John Conlee, Jeannie Seely, The Whites and Jim Ed Brown all did a nice job. The one name that I have not mentioned is Kristen Kelly. She does the Opry quite often and is familiar to many of us. That said, she was not impressive. She, along with the music, were loud and she just didn't seem to add anything to the show. The Opry House was about two-thirds filled, with just the upper balcony and wings empty.
The Opry's birthday concert Saturday afternoon featured Steve Wariner. Steve was outstanding, performing just about all of his hits, honoring Chet Atkins with a few songs, and doing a couple of numbers from his new CD. He told a few stories and certainly gave the audience their money's worth. I think they said the crowd was right around 1500, which isn't too bad for a hot, sunny afternoon. After the show, he signed and did pictures for all who were there.
As far as Saturday's Grand Ole Opry, I went in expecting the show not to be that great, considering it was the birthday weekend, but it turned out good, especially the 1st show. Jean Shepard looked better than I have seen her lately and continues to sound great. And Jeannie Seely really gave her a nice introduction. Sarah Darling continues to impress. A fantastic voice and she had some good song selections. Her career continues to move forward. It was my first time to see Tate Stevens, and I was surprised. He was very good and very country. His band was tight. It was mentioned that if he was a little younger he would have a real future in the industry, but his age might work against him. Mandy Barnett was Mandy Barnett, if you know what I mean. In addition to Jeannie, Connie Smith, John Conlee and Steve Wariner all did good jobs hosting. It was mentioned in the comments that Connie seems to be getting more comfortable in the role of hosting and I have to agree. Finally, there was Sam Palladio from the Nashville televison show. Sam and his band did a very nice job. The music was good and he did a couple of ballads that were heart felt.
You will notice that I left 3 names off. Jan Howard would have been fine if she and the Opry Staff Band were on the same page. The band was playing the song faster than she wanted to sing it, and you could tell she was not a happy camper. She left the stage quickly. Too bad, as her voice was good. This makes 2 years in a row for Casey James at the birthday bash and in my opinion, it is 2 years too many. Not country at all and very loud. But we all know why he was there and he met the goal. Finally there was Jimmy Dickens. I got word before the show he was backstage, and it had been hinted on Friday night that he would be there. For those who were there, or listened on the radio, you know the segment did not go well. He did seem confused and obviously was either not hearing or understanding the questions that Bill Cody was asking. I do know that after his segment, he left the Opry House very quickly. Other than that, I am not going to be hard on Jimmy. At 93 years of age, and the year he has had with his health, just the fact that he was there was a surprise. But from what I saw, I wouldn't be surprised at all if we didn't see him at the Opry again, at least for a while. I also wanted to mention that Jimmy C Newman was on the schedule for both shows on Saturday night. The word that I got was he wasn't feeling well and that was why he was not there.
As far as the 2nd show, it was pretty much a carbon copy of the first, with the exception of George Hamilton IV appearing instead of Jan Howard. George did "Forever Young", which he does quite often and as usual, did a very nice job. Tate, Sam and Mandy all repeated the same songs they did on the first show, which is something I don't like.
As for some other Opry comments from Saturday, the attendance for the 1st show was just over 4,000 with some seats in the upper balcony empty. The 2nd show drew about 1700, not good at all for a birthday show. For those of you who have not been to the Opry in a while, there was an incident at the Opry House a couple of months back, and as a result those sitting in the balcony are no longer allowed to come down on the main floor to take pictures. There is a hostess at each door to the main floor and you have to show you ticket to get it. I know what many of you are thinking, but don't blame Pete Fisher and the Opry on this one. It had to do with aisles being blocked and people sitting down front not being able to get out of their seats. If you have a seat in the lower level, you can still go up and take a picture, but you can no longer stay up front, having to return to your seat.
There were also comments about the lack of any major stars for the birthday weekend, which did hold the crowd down. The general opinion of many of us is that Pete Fisher did try to book some big names, and might actually have had a commitment from a few, but those fell through. Most of the Opry's bigger name members, along with many of the usual non-members that they use, were out on the road doing shows. And I am pretty sure they would not have scheduled a 2nd show with out thinking that there would have been a star or two to draw in the fans. The other factor is that this is the 1st year that the Opry's birthday show has not been televised, and television was a draw. I know that Jason Aldean last year appeared because of GAC. Now, we all know that the birthday weekend is announced a year in advance, and I know you would think Pete Fisher would book some people well ahead of time, but we also know that if a paying concert comes up for an Opry member, they will do that instead of the Opry. And for those who are interested, the birthday weekend next year has been moved back a week to the 2nd weekend in October.
Finally, there was the cake. For each show over the weekend, it was rolled out at the end by the stage hands. No Opry stars came out either night. They pushed it out after either Jim Ed Brown, Steve Wariner or John Conlee's final song, sang happy birthday, and pulled down the curtain. No sparklers and no real cake.
That puts another birthday weekend in the books. It was still a fine trip to Nashville, as always, and it was nice seeing friends and fellow Opry fans. For those who went, hopefully it was good enough to get you back next year. All things equal, I am sure I will keep my streak alive and make it back for the 89th. Then in 2015, you have the 90th, which I am sure the Opry will hit big.
Thanks again, and that is what I thought of the birthday weekend. I am always interested in how others saw it so please keep the comments coming.