Sunday, October 12, 2014

Grand Ole Opry Birthday Celebration Recap

The Grand Ole Opry celebrated it's 89th anniversary this past weekend and I was in Nashville for all 4 shows, 2 each for the Friday Night Opry and Saturday's Grand Ole Opry. It was a fun weekend and it was fun seeing several of those who follow and comment on the blog. Always a joy to put a face to a name.

After seeing the shows this past weekend, I guess the best I can say is, don't give up on the Opry yet. They promise that the 90th will be better. Let's hope that is the case as this past weekend continued the trend of seeing the quality and quantity of the birthday weekends continue to deteriorate. I can remember when the birthday weekends featured many of the Opry's members, but this year, only 4 members were there on Friday night, while 5 made it to the Opry House on Saturday.

Commenting on those Opry members who were there, it was nice to see Jimmy Dickens on both shows Saturday night. Jimmy looked and sounded pretty good. He told a few jokes and sang, "Mountain Dew" on both shows. The fact that he stayed for both shows impressed me. He received a standing ovation on each show.

Many have already commented on Stu Phillips. Yes, during the first show, he sounded as bad in the Opry House as he apparently did on the radio. But to his credit, he came right out to the front of the stage and carried on. I was actually surprised that he made it out for the 2nd show, but I am glad that he did as he sounded much better. And for those who were not there, Stu looked in good health.

Jan Howard, Jeannie Seely and Ray Pillow did their usual good jobs, and Ray handled the hosting duties just fine. On a personal note, I do wish that the hosts would not say that they haven't seen or met the act before that they are introducing. Ray, along with Mike Snider, made that comment on both shows and to me it just shows that they are a little out of touch with some of today's younger talent. Even if they do not know who the acts are, I just don't think they should admit it to a full Opry House and a national radio audience.

Mike Snider made it back to the Opry for the first time this year and hosted the opening segment on all 4 shows. On Friday, he stayed pretty much on the script, in fact reading off a sheet of paper the introduction of each of his guests, as he did with 2 of his new band members. On Saturday, he opened up a little more and during the 2nd show he made a few comments about Jimmy Dickens after Jimmy was done with his song.

Bill Anderson hosted on both shows Friday Night and handled the birthday cake. As always, Bill was on top of his game. I also thought that the Opry made the right move by having Bill stay around for the final segment and handle the introduction of Lady Antebellum, who was the featured act that night. While not Opry members, Lady Antebellum did a fantastic job and even participated in with the birthday cake, as did Jan Howard and The Willis Clan.

The final Opry member who appeared on Saturday night was Trace Adkins. Trace did a number of his hits and had good interplay with the audience. He had his full show band with him. Trace handled the birthday cake on Saturday, and let's just say I have heard better versions of "Happy Birthday." Nobody on Saturday night came out to join him. Trace did treat the final segment like a mini-concert which the younger fans in the audience seemed to enjoy but the 2nd Opry show on Saturday actually ended about 10 minutes early. I know we used to hear Opry shows running over, but one actually running short, I can't really say. That was a first for me.

Also scheduled was Opry member John Conlee. John cancelled out Saturday morning to play a date in Texas, filling in for a show that Merle Haggard was unable to make. Either the Opry could not find anyone to replace John, or no effort was made. Whatever the process was, with so few scheduled on the Opry that night, it left a pretty big hole in the schedule and forced Bill Cody to handle the introductions during the final hour of the show.

I already mentioned Lady Antebellum, and in addition to that super group, the guest artists on Friday included Chris Janson, Josh Abbott Band, John & Jacob, Sara Haze and The Willis Clan. I was not impressed with Josh Abbott or Sara Haze. They did their songs and received polite applause from the audience. Chris Janson, who I have made my own feelings about known, did an awesome job. He is full of energy and makes no secret of his feelings regarding his family, and his belief in God. The audience loves him and I am sure he will be a success in the industry. I was impressed with John & Jacob, and yes, that was a trumpet you heard. Finally, there was The Willis Clan. I saw them the first time they did the Opry and I was impressed then and still am. They were on "America's Got Talent" and did a nice job. The family is fun to watch and they are all talented.

On Saturday, the guests included JT Hodges, Greg Bates, Claire Bowen and Keb Mo. JT and Greg are what they are, younger male singers looking for the big career break, although Greg has had a top 5 hit. Claire is from "Nashville" and she was full of energy. She had her brother out doing a song with her. I don't know if anyone else got that feeling, but she reminded me of Skeeter Davis in the way she dressed and in her movements on the stage, with the long dress on. Finally, there was Keb Mo. He did 3 songs on each show and did a nice job, but you could tell most of the Opry audience wondered who he was and were asking themselves, why was he there. Good song selections and certainly nothing to offend the Opry audience, and he did receive good applause.

The other thing of interest is that on Saturday night, about half of the Opry Staff Band was missing. I know where Jimmy Capps was, but not sure where everyone else was off to.

As far as the attendance, both of the early shows were sold-out. There were very few empty seats for the 2nd show on Friday, while there were seats in the upper balcony available for the 2nd show Saturday. As always, they survey the audience before the show, and I would say at least half were at the Opry for the first time.

I did hear several comments that the Opry was working very hard already to make the 90th birthday celebration next year a big one. They have already confirmed that there will be 2 shows on Friday and Saturday and I do hope that they come through. When you think of milestone years, 90 is big. And when you think in terms of the Opry's 100th and who might or might not be around, you can understand the effort for next year.

Finally, a couple of interesting comments that Bill Cody made on Saturday night. Bill was doing the announcing for both shows, with Mike Terry absent. First, he kept referring to October 5, 1925 as the date the Opry first started, growing from the Uncle Jimmy Thompson appearance, to the WSM Barn Dance, to the Grand Ole Opry. As we all know, Uncle Jimmy's appearance took place on November 28, 1925. I am not sure if Bill was confused as the October date was when WSM went on the air. The 2nd error came when he introduced the square dancers on the 2nd show, which tied into the Uncle Jimmy Thompson reference. From all reports, the first song played by Uncle Jimmy on the Opry was "Tennessee Wagoner." When introducing the square dancers, Bill said they were going to dance to the first fiddle tune played on the Opry, "Billy in the Lowground." Just a small error.

As far as the Opry House itself, nothing new to report. It is still in good shape and nothing new has been added. They do make sure that if someone comes down for a photo that they take their picture and immediately head back to their seat. Nobody is allowed to hang around in front of the stage.

While not up to par to previous birthday shows, as always, I did enjoy my time in Nashville and at the Opry. It was loud and fast paced, but still a good show. And yes, I will be back at the 90th, and certainly a few more shows before then.


  1. Fred, Bismarck:

    Thanks for the report, Byron. Good reading!

  2. I second Fred's comment, Byron. Thanks for the report of the weekend.

    I just wish I could be as optimistic as you about the Opry's future. The Birthday shows are clearly no longer anything special. They pale miserably in comparison to birthday shows a decade ago, much less 20-30 years ago. Management obviously doesn't think they are anything special. And, it appears that many of the regular and semi-regular members have now adopted the same view. I can't imagine that so many would be out on the road, touring this past weekend if they thought that the Birthday weekend was still something of an event. Even John Conlee elected to go, instead, to play a show in Texas, rather than play the Opry. I just fear that as the Opry continues to deteriorate, that many of the current devoted members will continue to lose interest in doing the show and stop showing up.

    As I stated in another of my posts, I dread to see the state of the Opry at its 100th Birthday, that is, if the show makes it that long. Even if it does, I fear that it will be the Opry in name only. I see it becoming a show that is more of a mini-concert with 3-4 acts, of which may or may not be members of the cast. That seems to be the obvious direction over the last few years. And with only 9 total Opry acts over the entire weekend, I think we're closer to the 3-4 act show than the 15-25 member acts of even 15 years ago.

    Again, I hope I'm wrong, but I don't hold out too much hope. Thanks again, Byron, for your faithful reporting!

  3. Byron;

    Thanks for the detailed and enjoyable report. Appreciated it and all you do for all of us here.


    ps. glad to see you're now an enthusiastic Chris Janson fan (sitting here trying to not chuckle myself to death!)

  4. Shelly in Maine: I do hope that Opry management reads these blogs and comments. They should be ashamed of the birthday weekend shows. Terrible lineups and performances. I see a very dismal future for the Opry and country music in general. I know times are changing, but I'm sorry, this is the Grand Ole Opry. Can they not get the big name Opry members to show up? Is it really that hard to get them there? The Opry and it's membership used to be a big deal. Must not be to many of its members anymore.