Sunday, March 16, 2014

Grand Ole Opry House 40th Anniversary Recap

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Grand Ole Opry's 40th anniversary weekend of the Grand Ole Opry House. I attended all 3 shows and I have to tell you, it was a very good weekend of Opry shows. With the line-up that was announced, along with some special guests, it was everything you would have wanted. I would have to say that Saturday's 1st show was probably the best Opry show I have attended since the Opry's 75th anniversary show back in 2000. It was that entertaining, and I will say that the 2nd show on Saturday was not far behind. Both Saturday shows were sold out and from what I could determine, the Friday night show was about 95% sold. All 3 shows offered a good mix of Opry veterans, new artists and variety.

Saturday's Grand Ole Opry had a dramatic beginning and to set the scene, I need to remind everyone how the Opry started their first show at the Opry House 40 years ago. On that night, before a packed house, the lights were dimmed, the curtain rose, and there was a huge white scrim. Projecting on it was the picture of George Hay from the 1940 movie Grand Ole Opry. "First, we're gonna hear from Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys," the movie voice of George Hay said. "Smoke it up, Roy!" And there was Roy Acuff. A young Acuff from thirty-four years earlier. Dark-haired and serious. Brother Oswald's dobro began and Roy began to sing "Wabash Cannonball" in a slower, serious tone. Then the scrim began to slowly rise and through it the audience could see Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys live on the stage, making a perfect musical segue from the film to the live performance on the new Opry stage. As the stage lights came on, standing behind Roy was the Opry cast.

On Saturday night, after the Carrie Underwood introductory video, the curtain stayed down as did the large video screen. After a few seconds pause, up on the screen was the replay of the 1974 Roy Acuff introduction and performance. Then, as the screeen faded from the black and white Acuff to the color Acuff, the big red curtain and video screen went up and up on the stage was the Opry cast, all who were scheduled to appear Saturday night, singing "Wabash Cannonball." Yes, all were there singing, including Blake Shelton, Clint Black, Miranda Lambert, and joined by surprise artists Marty Stuart, Ricky Skaggs and Jimmy Dickens. Jimmy was down in front and was just standing. Old Crow Medicine Show provided the back up music. Bobby Osborne and Ricky Skaggs played the musical breaks and Josh Turner, among others, sang the verse with everyone on the chorus. It was as dramatic of a start as I have seen and the audience responded with a long ovation.

The show then started with Diamond Rio hosting the 1st segment. I know I mentioned a few weeks ago when they were on that they sounded off key and "terrible." But Saturday, they sounded just fine. The Whites were next followed by Green River Ordinance. The Whites did one number, rather quickly. Green River Ordinance was making their Opry debut, and are from Fort Worth, Texas. They sounded fine, no complaints. The 2nd segment was hosted by Connie Smith. She brought out Marty Stuart as a surprise guest and he played "Orange Blossom Special" on the mandolin. Josh Turner followed and did 2 songs including "Long Black Train." Then another surprise as Old Crow Medicine Show came out. 1st song was "CC Rider" and then came "Wagon Wheel." Yes, the audience was singing along, as they do at all Old Crow appearances. In my mind, they add much to the Opry.

The 3rd segment was hosted by Bill Anderson and he brought out Bobby Osborne & The Rocky Top X-Press, who did the classic "Rocky Top." Next out was Clint Black, who was without a band. He did a new number, joking about playing something "uptempo." After a short introduction and Cracker Barrel plug, he began to sing the duet song "When I Said I Do." When it came to her part, Clint's wife, Lisa Hartman Black walked out and the audience went wild. They did the song perfect. Square Dancers followed with Earl White, and then Bill did "I Wonder If God Likes Country Music."

The final segment was the one that most in the audience was waiting for. Riders In The Sky were the hosts and Miranda Lambert was out next. Now, I know many think she is not really country and that can be debated, but I will say she did a very nice job. After a commercial, Blake Shelton was next. He received a great reception, did one song, followed by a duet with his wife Miranda. After they were finished, the curtain was down and the show was over. When all was said and done, the show ran over by about 20 minutes.

What was also nice was the playing of several videos during the show. When Connie Smith, Bobby Osborne and Bill Anderson were introduced, the video screen played a portion of their performance from the opening night 40 years before. Also played were clips of President Richard Nixon playing "God Bless America", and the President and Roy doing the yo-yo. All in all, an outstanding show.

The 2nd show was almost a reply of the 1st. There was the same introduction, with the exception of no Jimmy Dickens. Instead of The Whites, Jean Shepard was on and Jeannie Seely hosted the 2nd segment instead of Connie Smith. Marty Stuart only appeared on the first show. Except for the start of the two shows, Ricky Skaggs did not perform. While Jimmy Dickens was there for the introduction of first show, he did not appear again on stage. Most of the artists did the same songs on the 2nd show, with the exception of Riders In The Sky and Blake Shelton. And they did the video clips of Jean Shepard and Jeannie Seely. The 2nd show lasted until just before midnight.

Looking back to the Friday Night Opry, it was another solid show. Crystal Gayle did her usual good job, Jimmy C Newman was fine as was Jesse McReynolds. Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan were on the final segment, along with Scotty McCreery, who the younger fans loved.

What did surprise me was that there was no Opry membership invitation given to Miranda Lambert. I really expected that, as did a few others. It seemed to be set up perfectly for an invitation.My wife, in fact, was at a show Saturday night at the Ryman and one of the ushers asked where I was. My wife said I was at the Opry and the usher responded by saying that she heard Miranda Lambert was going to become a member. Well, like we all know, it didn't happen.

After Saturday's show, the Midnight Jamboree followed with Barbara Fairchild hosting, with The Whites and Connie Smith stopping by.

It was a fine weekend for the Opry!!!!!!

22 comments:

  1. It was a marvelous show to listen to, and I trust the Opry will put up video of the opening, at least. I did get chills from that. It was a great show, and it was much closer to being a "real" Opry show. I also can't help but wonder: why not all members?

    As for Miranda Lambert, I don't have a beef with her, and inviting her to join would have been fine, since she wouldn't end up appearing any more often than her husband does, I guess.

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  2. I have to say that I was shocked but pleased with the opening. Of course I am a big Roy Acuff fan so I was pleased if for no other reason just to hear his voice and Oswald's dobro in the Opry House again. They did do a nice job repeating the performance. It was also a nice touch showing the brief clips of those who appeared and were there 40 years ago. Jean Shepard's was by far the most impressive since she proved she can still yodel.

    Not because he is at the top of my list but I do wish Clint Black would come around more often. His performances are always good and in good taste whether you are crazy about his music or not. That is just opinion as is my thoughts about Blake Shelton. Something about him just doesn't go down good for me. Maybe it is statements like "I'm a frickin Opry member" that gives me problems. I know he is a big deal these days but he lacks class to me. I also know that he and Miranda are probably what sold out the shows. Okay, I'm ready for the rebuttals!

    As we have talked before, there are some other females more deserving of membership than Miranda Lambert but I'm sure she would fill more seats and fit the future Opry better.

    Overall, I did find all three shows interesting, enjoyable and better than I had anticipated. Glad Byron was able to attend and had a great time. Thanks for the great report.

    Jim
    Knightsville, IN

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  3. It was a great night for me too. I have been to 358 Opry shows and I would rank the first show Saturday in my Top 10 I have attended. The 75th Anniversary shows both Friday and Saturday in 2000 were better as was the first show back from the Flood, the Tuesday Night Opry in September 2010 when they all did a group opening number that was terrific as well. That show was unbelievable. The Opry 80th Anniversary shows in 2005 are in my Top 10 that I have seen as well as the 80th Anniversary show at Carnegie Hall in NYC that I got to see in person. The 50th Anniversary shows for Porter Wagoner and Loretta Lynn were special as well. And one show I saw on a Saturday night, January 16, 1993 still ranks in my Top 10. No special event that night, but the stars literally aligned when you had on one show: Bill Anderson, Grandpa Jones, Ricky Skaggs, Patty Loveless, Porter Wagoner, Ricky Van Shelton, Alan Jackson, Barbara Mandrell, Waylon Jennings, Bill Monroe, Marty Stuart, Hank Snow and a Joe Diffie in his prime. WOW! That was amazing to see in person. The Minnie Pearl 50th in 1990 was also among the favorites I have attended.

    Just a couple of things to add to Byron's analysis (and Byron again, it was fun to sit with you front row center for the 9:30 show Saturday..what an awesome view we had!!!):
    1. The upright piano that Richard Nixon played in 74 was displayed all evening on stage right and was mentioned during the show...that was cool.

    2. They gave one of the brown colored programs from the first night at the Opry House to fans at each show who were sitting in the " Presidental Box" in Sec 24 of the Balcony that Nixon and wife Pat sat in for the show in 1974.

    3. I too was one who was shocked that Miranda Lambert was not asked to become a member. I fully expected Jimmy Dickens to walk back out during her segment to invite her, with the usual actual induction to come in a few weeks. There are so few members being added, not even enough to replace the ones who are dying or retiring. Maybe leading up to the 90th Anniversary next year, the Opry will pick up the pace and get some more big current names in the fold, as well as some of the veterans who were missed along the way in their careers. I just think when you have guests outnumbering members on a good number of these Opry shows that are being staged, you have a problem. Maybe this is just one of my crazy ideas, but It might be a neat thing to maybe induct 2 or 3 veterans the same night, give them each a segment and make a big deal out of that show. I mean that's how the HOF does it each year with the announcement of 3 or more members.

    4. At the second show, I think a lot of people in the audience were expecting Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert to do a song together and when they did not, I know some were disappointed. Guessng that was planned and it went to the chopping block when the clock approached midnight. They were great together at the first show and it was a highlight of the first show.

    5. There were $6 wooden yo-yo's for sale in the gift shop to honor the night. They had plenty left still when I left at 12:30am. There is also a new book out.

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  4. One other thing I really appreciated was the special red program for the weekend with the Opry House on front... just like it looked on the cover of the brown 1974 program. Inside is an excerpt from the new book that was released this weekend, outlining the challenges the move from the Ryman to the new Opry House brought. Very classy program and kudos to the Opry on this one. Also they have new redesigned programs on a weekly basis that look really classy as well with a neat font inside of the artists appearing... and the front of the weekly programs uses the "circle: motif on the cover of the program that is the backbone of the redesigned Opry website as well. Just thought I'd add that about the special program and new weekly programs to what I have said above.

    Lindy

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  5. One more thing I thought of that wasn't mentioned by Byron or me above and then I'm heading to bed. They had new banners up on the front of the Opry House that use this "circle" theme that really looked good as well. Various members are featured in the circles on the banners. I'm not all that bright sometimes, and the "circle" theme that is the backbone of the new Opry.com finally hit me... what two months later????... when I saw the new weekly programs and the banners this weekend.

    That is all!!!

    Lindy

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  6. Fred, Bismarck:

    Wow, thank you, Byron and Lindy. It does sound like a great weekend, and that the Opry rose to the occasion. I wish now I had listened in; wasn't expecting much, I guess.

    And, Michael, I think your remarks on Miranda Lambert were as deft a left-handed compliment as I have encountered lately!

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  7. Lindy, thanks for filling in the items that I missed. I know it was late when I got home on Sunday and I was typing fast. Among those who came out for the group introduction that I missed was George Hamilton IV. He did not appear on either show, but as some of you know, he is backstage almost every Saturday night acting as a tour guide for those who have backstage tours. He is the perfect person to do that. Considering he is backstage each weekend, it would be nice if they had him out front more often.

    And thanks for mentioning the special program for the night. I know I collected several that were left at the Opry House. Anyone interested, let me know. I will even pay the postage!!!

    What Lindy did not mention on those front row seats is that the Opry added 2 more rows in section A to stop the people from coming down in front of the stage to take pictures. So, talk about an up close seat, that was it. Regarding the picture taking, they still allowed the people to come down to take them, but they had to stay on the sides and go back when they were done. As we talked, I wouldn't be surprised if they added a another row of seats in front of sections 3 and 5.

    As a final thought, and just my opinion, on the nights, which are few, when the Opry does 2 shows on a Saturday night, it really feels like the old Opry. No intermission, clearing out the house and getting the 2nd show audience in, and in this case, not really watching the clock. To me, they really didn't try to limit anyone's time, just letting the show flow. The special guests were nice, something we don't see much of anymore as the show is so scripted. And Lindy is right, I do think they pushed to get off the air by midnight. My only complaint is that I wish the artists would do a different song on the 2nd show. If I remember right, only Riders and Blake did something different. Heck, some of the artists, Clint Black in particular, said the exact same words between their songs.

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  8. Ops, meant to say they added the seats in front of section 4!!!!

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  9. Byron and I were commemting during the second show that in 1974 on opening night most of the artists did a different song on the second show...as Byron said that wasnt the case Saturday. But with the tie in with the Opry House 40 celebration they were doing songs that had a connection with with the special night so I can see why this happened. Plus I think Byron and Iand a family member were the only ones I saw who did both shows, so it was all new to everyone else there for the 9:30 show.... that was one show though that I really didnt mind watching over a second time anyway!! I do wish on nights that arent special and they have 2 shows that the artists would mix it up on the second show like it used to be when they had 2 shows every Saturday.

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  10. Thanks for a great recap of the show.

    I'm surprised anybody's surprised Miranda Lambert wasn't invited to join the Opry this weekend. This was her 1st Opry appearance since September 2012. Typically when an artist seeks membership, their management will amp up their appearances at the Opry prior to their being asked. Too, Blake's attendance record has been putrid since becoming a member, and fairly or not, I'd bet that was a consideration that is delaying and will continue to delay Miranda being asked to join. Inviting Miranda this weekend would have been like rewarding Blake for shirking his membership duties.

    Miranda's music is far better than Blake's and I'd much rather see her a member than Blake, whose mediocre music doesn't make up for his attitude issues. Miranda is also really the only other current female country act other than Carrie Underwood who's having consistent success. She's definitely got a heavy pop and rock side to her, but she also has some strong country in her veins.

    But this weekend was about celebrating the Opry House's 40th Anniversary. The focus was and remained on that as it should be, instead of being hijacked by the invitation of a new member. It's nice to see all the writeups of Saturday's celebrations, and it's great that there was such a strong lineup from front to back for the night. The opening was an inspired idea, and it's great that Old Crow Medicine Show was there was a surprise guest, plus Marty Stuart, Ricky Skaggs, and Lisa Hartman Black. It was great hearing Josh Turner at the Opry again as well. Let Blake & Miranda pay their dues by being the vehicles for some Opry publicity for once. It's about time for Blake to give a little considering how much he's neglected his membership responsibilities.

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  11. Great summary and maybe seeing the programs received so well, it will be a new trend for the Opry - we can only hope. Curious about those front row seats; we have tickets for the Anniversary again and received a call from the Opry Ticket Office that they had modified the seating and they asked if we would like to change - they were moving the rows forward - I wasn't sure what they meant but with your description of the new rows closer to the stage - that clears it up - we did opt to take front row for one of the anniv weekend shows - but not all, kept our usual other seats because we like sitting on the aisle. I am not ready to see Miranda Lambert a member, if at all. (FROM Anonymous-PA)

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  12. The Grand Ole Opry celebrated 40 years of country music at the Grand Ole Opry House last Saturday as the newest members of the Opry, Old Crow Medicine Show, led the cast in a show-opening performance of Opry patriarch Roy Acuff’s “Wabash Cannonball.”

    Source:http://www.nashville.com/music/2014/03/grand-ole-opry-house-celebrates-40-years/

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  13. Tuesday's show:

    Members: Jeannie Seely, Pam Tillis, Riders in the Sky

    Guests: Cassadee Pope, Dailey & Vincent, Dustin Lynch, Will Hoge, Sara Haze

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  14. Byron: Did you hear any buzz about the Hall of Fame announcement?

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  15. David, not a word. No buzz, no discussion, no anything. Pretty unusual.

    What I have found interesting over the past month or so is that several of those who we think are under consideration have been in the news. Ronnie Milsap has new music out and was featured in the Tennessean. The Oak Ridge Boys have just completed their 40th anniversary tour and have a new CD out that they have been promoting pretty heavy in the interviews. Ricky Skaggs has been involved with the Hall of Fame. Randy Travis was out and was pictured as he slowly recovers from his stroke.

    It is almost as if this is an effort by a few of them to keep their names out there.

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  16. I can hardly wait for Hall of Fame news.I do wish they hurry up.

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  17. Just a final comment regarding Miranda Lambert. I know there was a comment that Miranda hasn't appeared much at the Opry and that management will increase someone's Opry appearances before they are asked to join. In the "old" days that would be true. Management would see how well the potential new member was received by the audience and the other Opry members backstage before asking. It doesn't happen much that way anymore.

    While it is true that Brad Paisley and Josh Turner were at the Opry a lot before they were asked to join, on the other hand Charlie Daniels, Keith Urban, Blake Shelton were hardly ever at the Opry. Old Crow, Darius Rucker and Rascal Flatts had made about a half dozen Opry appearances total.

    In today's Opry world, it is what is best for business and who will put people in the seats. I think that is why some were surprised that Old Crow were asked to become members. That one came out of the blue. Even after nothing happening Saturday night, I still think there was some discussion that took place between Miranda's people and the Opry. For whatever reason, it just didn't work out. From the Opry's standpoint, if Miranda had joined, she probably would have been at the Opry just a few times each year. But those few shows would have been soldout and generated some buzz for the Opry. And that's their bottom line. Buzz and a full house.

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  18. While it is true that Brad Paisley and Josh Turner were at the Opry a lot before they were asked to join, on the other hand Charlie Daniels, Keith Urban, Blake Shelton were hardly ever at the Opry. Old Crow, Darius Rucker and Rascal Flatts had made about a half dozen Opry appearances total.

    I went back into your excellent archives to back up my point, at least about contemporary country acts. I can't say enough about how great a resource this blog is, and I thank you for all your work in maintaining it.

    In the year leading up to his 9/28/10 invitation to join the Opry, here were Blake Shelton's Opry appearances.

    8/17/10 (1 show)
    8/20/10 (1 show)
    5/13/10 (Opry Country Classics)
    4/27/10 (1 show)
    2/26/10 (1 show)
    1/22/10 (1 show)
    10/31/09 (1 show)

    That's a total of 7 shows in the year leading up to Blake's invitation to join, and here's a post where you talked about Blake ramping up his Opry appearances just in the past year as part of an effort to secure membership.

    Here are Keith Urban's Opry appearances in the year leading up to his 4/10/12 invitation to join the Opry

    3/9/12 (1 show)
    2/3/12 (1 show - 1st appearance since vocal chord surgery)

    (he was scheduled to play 2 shows apiece 11/12/11 and 11/26/11 but had to cancel due to vocal chord surgery)

    10/25/11 (1 show)

    OK technically, Keith Urban only played 3 shows leading up to his invitation to join but the intention was there for him to play more before he was invited. Vocal chord surgery can't be helped. Despite that, you correctly predicted he was being lined up for Opry membership based on multiple factors (the invitation just came a couple months after you predicted).

    That's why I said if there were any intention of securing Miranda an invitation to join the Opry, especially in light of her husband's poor attendance record, she would have been ramping up her Opry appearances prior to this past weekend. As much as the Opry is about selling tickets and gaining buzz like you said, I don't think management has gone so far down that road that they would extend an invitation to somebody making her 1st appearance at the Opry in 18 months and who had made no other effort to associate herself with the Opry in that time. Saturday's appearance could be the *start* of a membership drive for Miranda, but I'm not surprised that a membership offer was not forthcoming on Saturday. If Miranda starts showing up at the Opry a few more times this year, then I will completely agree with you that a membership invitation for Miranda is a done deal.

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  19. I must say that after reading several comments and facts here over the past couple of years I can see where the criticism of Durham and Wendall may be valid. Even though they were in charge during my most memorable time of the Opry the decisions they made could very well be why we are where we are today. If they had signed up more current relevant acts in the 80's/early 90's and held their feet to the fire on appearances then attendance may not have dropped off. If the attendance had remained high maybe Fisher/Buchanan would not had an excuse for the direction or tactics they have employed to boost attendance and the bottom line. Maybe we would have a more solid member base who cares about the Opry and there would be less room for all of these debut and talent show acts each week.

    It's probably good that I'm not in charge because I would probably guide the ship from the heart and not the (business) mind and sink the ship. That may be what about happened with Duham and Wendall.

    My thoughts may be a little out of place here in this discussion but it goes towards how membership may have been considered with different management teams over the years. The environment during each of those teams reign has probably affected the next team more than was known at the transition time. Time is may be telling us the real story!

    Jim
    Knightsville, IN

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  20. Windmills Country: First, thanks so much for the comments. I really do enjoy the exchange of thoughts and opinions. And I hope they keep coming. And thanks so much for reading the blog. And also thanks for the work you did in going back and bringing back up what I wrote over the past several years. I can say you proved your point!!!

    I think what I was trying to say, and maybe didn't come across right, was that the days of appearing 20 or 30 shows before getting an Opry invitation are probably over. If that was still the case, I would guess that more then a few of the guest artists, who appear way more than many of the Opry's members, would actually be members now. That might go back to the fact that Pete Fisher has been quoted as saying he would like a lot of variety and different acts on the Opry and that an Opry show should not be a show of just Opry members.

    Jim, you are correct that much of the problems that the Opry has regarding members not showing up more than once or twice a year does go back to Hal Durham and Bob Whitaker, who decided to make people members with no commitment at all for appearances. At least Pete Fisher is trying to get 10 shows a year out of those who he brings on and he has had better success. Heck, I think if each of the members would show up even 6 or 8 times a year, the Opry would be a pretty good show most nights.

    Maybe Miranda's time will come, maybe not. The thought around Nashville, and a few other places, was that perhaps the Opry would be looking for a "splash" as they celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Opry House and have started the countdown to the 90th birthday bash. (yes, I know it is 18 months away).

    Windmills Country, thanks again for the debate.

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