Monday, December 15, 2014

Recap of Last Weekend at the Opry

As I had mentioned, I decided to head down to Nashville and attend the Opry this past weekend. I went to all three shows, which were at the Ryman Auditorium. Each of the three were sold out and the crowds were very enthusiastic. Just my opinion, but there is always something magical about seeing the Opry at the Ryman and I thought all three shows were very good, much better than many of the shows that the Opry has produced lately. I thought I would share my thoughts and observations, starting with the shows on Saturday night.

Each time I see Carrie Underwood at the Opry, I appreciate her, and her music more. And I really appreciate the fact that she is probably the only one of her generation who not only belongs as a member of the Opry, but actually shows up and performs. Bill Anderson said it best when he introduced her during the 1st show on Saturday, when he said that Carrie could be performing on any stage, in any city in the world and for a lot more money, yet she elected to spend Saturday night at the Opry. I can't speak for the veterans, but I think in their own way, they appreciate her supporting the show. What also impressed me was that she did three songs on the first show, and three different songs on the 2nd. So many times, the artists will do the same numbers on both shows. And yes, she is pregnant, yet it has not slowed her down.

I was very anxious to see Kacey Musgraves, and folks, she is the real deal. Not only is she great, and country, but so is her band. To see them dressed up in the suits, sparking in colors, was a great site. They looked like a country & western band. Yes, she did mispronounce Dawn Sears name, and she felt bad about it, but you could also tell she was very nervous. It showed. The audience loved when she did "Don't Fence Me In." A very nice tribute. Bill Anderson made some very nice comments, and he has mentioned in the past that he thinks Kacey has a big future in country music. Hopefully, nobody will mess with her too bad and change her style.

This was also the first time I had seen The Henningsens. The act consists of a father and his son and daughter. The first thing I thought of was The Wilkinsons, who you might remember had a hit or two in the 1990s, and then faded away. Brian, Clara and Aaron are their names and they did two Christmas songs from their new CD. They did a very nice job and I can see why they have been guests on the Opry so many times. Also, Clara is pregnant, which gave us two pregnant performers on the Opry on Saturday, which might have been a first. Kree Harrison, from American Idol, did a couple of ballads on each show. I think she has a very nice voice, not much in style. I don't know what the future holds for her. At this point, she has not had a breakout hit and continues to try to find her way in the industry.

As far as Opry members, I will start with Emmylou Harris. She is as pretty as always, and what a great voice. I hope it came through well on the radio. The first show she did the great Merle Haggard hit, "Kern River." I thought it was a strange song for her to start off with, but she nailed it. The audience was hanging on each word. She finished her segment with "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues", with Kree Harrison joining in along with another young lady who's name I did not catch. Also of note, when the curtain opened, Emmylou started looking around behind her and realized that her bass was missing. He came running out with his instrument. The second show, she opened with "Two More Bottles of Wine', and finished her segment with a Christmas number, again with Kree Harrison. Of note, she forgot the commercial break between Kree Harrison and Bobby Osborne and I was watching Eddie Stubbs try to get her attention, but she was turned the other way and the show kept rolling. Also regarding Emmylou, she read her introduction of Kree Harrison from a card. I have noticed this with several other Opry hosts, so it would be apparent to me that Pete Fisher wants to make sure that guest artists get properly introduced when on the Opry. Now, for Bobby Osborne. He did "Rocky Top" both shows, with a 2nd number on the 2nd show. Bobby was in fine voice but he has added the snare drum again to his band, with his oldest son playing it. I think the drum just takes away and adds a bad sound to "Rocky Top." That song was just fine without a snare drum being played on it. One last comment about Bobby and this is responding to the comment on Bobby doing "Rocky Top" every week. A lot of the song selection from the veterans is not their choice, but what they are being asked, or "suggested" by Opry management to do. I know several of them would love to do other material, but cannot. (Jack Greene did "There Goes My Everything" and "Statue of A Fool" each time he was on in his final years). While we may get tired of hearing "Rocky Top" each week, those in the audience love it and the song always receives one of the loudest ovations.

John Conlee opened both shows, wearing a sports coat and tie. John does a great job hosting and got the shows started on the right note. Jeannie Seely, who also appeared on Friday night, hosted a segment on the 1st show. Nothing really special out of Jeannie. She did two Christmas numbers, and actually the same two she has been doing the past several weeks. Craig Morgan was one of her guests on the 1st show and hosted a segment on the 2nd. As a host, I think he is great. Lot's of humor from him and real nice introductions. I compare his hosting style to that of Larry Gatlin. Just someone out there having fun with the other performers and with the audience. During the first show, he did a different version of "I Don't Remember Loving You", the great John Conlee song. John stood at the side of the stage and came out when the song ended. Craig said he has recorded it, so it might be out next year.

Finally, there was Jimmy Dickens. He appeared only on the first show. Came out as usual, told a few jokes which the audience loved, and did "Mountain Dew." He did not forget the words and I thought his voice was pretty good. You can tell he has lost some weight, but overall seemed in good health and good spirits. He is 94 this coming Friday.

To finish up Saturday, there was a comment made about the speed of the show, especially Emmylou's segment. I can tell you from watching, they were making a big effort to keep the first show on time and not running over. They had a sold-out crowd for the 2nd show waiting outside and with the construction on the Ryman going on, there is only one real entrance to the building and that is the side entrance if you are familiar with the building. But as far as the show, it did not feel rush and I thought the pace was ok. As far as the 2nd show, they held up the start by about ten minutes in order to get as many people in as they could before the start, and it ended about four or five minutes early. Again, from my perspective in the audience, it did not seem rushed, just the flow of the show that particular night.

Now for the Friday Night Opry and a few comments. There were three guest artists, Sara Haze, Amber Digby and Minton Sparks. There is nothing special about Sara Haze. If there was a weak spot on any of the shows, it was Sara. I am pretty sure she sang the same two songs that she did during the birthday weekend in October. Nothing special there. I had seen Amber Digby once before, hosting the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree. This was the first time I had seen her on the Opry, and again, she is real country and the real deal. She is part of the "Heart of Texas" group, and if you have heard her, then you know her voice is real country. She said she has a new CD coming out in February of Osborne Brothers material. I am looking forward to that. Friday it was just her, not her entire band. Minton Sparks was a name that I did not recognize and it was her first time on the Opry. She is a story teller and a good one. She did two, about her grandmother's purse, if I remember right, and another one that I can't remember the title. I thought the first story was good, with some humor to it. Comedy and the old-style story telling is something that I think the Opry could use more of. I think Minton did enough of a good job that she will be invited back.

As far as Opry members, the three big names were Joe Diffie, Marty Stuart and Dierks Bentley, all of whom did a very nice job. It is always a pleasure to see all three on the Opry and wish they were there more often. Marty Stuart is such a great host. Lots of energy and fun times. Thanks to that final segment with Marty, the show ran over by about ten minutes, with no complaints. Just an FYI, but Marty did not mention Connie at all. Marty also had Harry Stinson, his drummer out front and center, singing "Dixie." Very nicely done. Dierks Bentley was also fine, lots of energy and he had his full band with him.

As far as the veterans, Jesse McReynolds did two instrumental numbers. Jesse is looking good and his mandolin playing is still top notch. Ray Pillow hosted the second segment, and while he is still a great singer, I have to wonder about his hosting skills. He mispronounced Amber Digby's name, and even admitted that he had just met her. I just hate that. And he was reading the introduction off a card. I just think it could be a bit more professional. I am sure many have noticed that since Jimmy C Newman and George Hamilton IV have passed away, and with Jim Ed Brown ill, we are seeing much more of Ray on the Opry and hosting segments. I just hope they are not overworking Ray!!

Bill Anderson hosted on all three shows and Bill looked and sounded very good. It is hard to believe, but once you get past Jimmy Dickens, Bill would be one of the last veteran Opry performers left from his generation. Friday night he did "Po' Folks Christmas" and "Still", while on Saturday night he did his newer song about his feelings on Christmas (I admit I forget the exact title). He received a huge ovation from both audiences on Saturday. I thought that Pete Fisher made a good decision having Bill host the final segments on Saturday and doing two songs to start out, then having Carrie and Kacey do three, with Bill finishing up and concluding the show without having to follow the ladies with another number.

Finally, there is Jean Shepard. She was on and did "Second Fiddle." She sounds good but she is pretty frail looking. She had to be assisted out to the stage and when she was finished. She did her song sitting on a stool. But again, she was energetic and the audience appreciated the effort. Next year is her 60th year as an Opry member, and discounting the stringband members from the years past, that might make her the first solo artist to make it 60 consecutive years on the Opry. That would be an achievement and I am sure she is hoping to make it.

Looking at where the Opry is at today, I thought these were three very good shows. The line-ups were solid, and there was a nice mix of younger talent and veterans. The audience appreciated the efforts by everyone and as I have already stated, it still gives me hope for the Opry.

A last note on the Opry and what people expect when they go. On Friday night, I was sitting next to two very nice ladies, I would say in their 40s. We started talking a little bit before the show and I found out they were from North Dakota and it was their first trip to Nashville or the Opry. I told them I attend many times and I thought they would enjoy the show. At intermission the one lady turned to me and asked if this was what the Opry was always like. When I asked her what she meant, she said that she couldn't believe that Joe Diffie and the others did just one or two songs. She was expecting more!! I explained the Opry to her and what the show was about and she said it was nothing like she saw when she watched the Opry on GAC and the Opry scenes on "Nashville." I did tell her that the Opry on GAC was not the true Opry, but actually was a scripted hour with just three or four performers who did do four or five songs each, while the real Opry was a radio show. They had no idea who Ray Pillow was since they had never seen him on GAC. No, I explained to her that only the young, hot stars were on television. Sadly, they ended up leaving before the show ended.

Finally, I have a facebook page that I posted pictures from Friday and Saturday night. Many of you who comment and follow the blog already follow me on facebook and I appreciate the comments. It is not all country music and the Opry and if anyone wishes to follow me on facebook, just type in Byron Fay. Make sure to get the right one!!


  1. GREAT roundup, Byron. Thanks.

    One of the things that always annoyed me about the GAC Opry is that it was so scripted. But then I remembered some history. The Prince Albert Show was, too--in fact, you can find some of the scripts online. Minnie Pearl said in her autobiography that the ad agency sent in writers to do material for her and Rod Brasfield and it didn't work because they didn't know the audience. One line she mentioned was that something "would take the Hart out of Hart, Schaffner, and Marx." Well, that was an eastern clothier, and the Prince Albert segment was only broadcast in the South. But still, that segment was very close to what the rest of the Opry was like. I much preferred the days when TNN basically rolled in the cameras for a segment and you saw what really went on. I'm reminded of one night when Mr. Acuff was about to make an introduction and Vic Gabany walked by and told him they'd changed the order, and Mr. Acuff just stopped and glared at the side of the stage--or the night then-Vice President George Bush was on and Mr. Acuff brought him on before he was supposed to, and explained at the end that it was his segment and that was that!

    A note on hosting. I noticed that, in his later years, Jimmy C. Newman almost never hosted. I wondered if it was because he occasionally had adventures in English. He once told my mother that he still thought in Cajun French and had to translate it. Then again, when I think of some of Mr. Acuff's and Grandpa Jones's wanderings and musings ....

    Jean Shepard is #3 behind Herman and Lewis Crook for longest tenure. Next to her in seniority among the current membership is Bill Anderson, since he has been on for 53 1/2 years without a break--and he's ONLY 77. Stonewall Jackson is at about the same length, but was off from 1964 to 1969, and of course The Potato is another matter entirely. I hope Jean is ok. I know she'd had some medical problems before.

  2. Wonderful review of the weekend.
    Thanks so much, Byron.
    Totally agree with your statement that "there is always something magical about seeing the Opry at the Ryman."
    I have to tell you that many of the segments you describe with obvious appreciation for the performances, came across as rather flat on the radio (or Internet).
    Again, THANKS!

  3. Fully enjoyed your Nashville recap, Byron. Thank you for posting all the great photo's on Facebook as well. I thoroughly enjoyed all three shows. I really dig Kacey Musgraves & I can add Amber Digby to my list of favorites. There certainly is much more to country music than what we are forced fed on FM country radio, we just don't know about it, but that's the great thing about the Opry, we are introduced to artists we'd otherwise not learn about if we had to rely on our local country music stations.

    As always, I loved hearing Craig Morgan - that guy has such a powerful voice & has recorded some great music. I also enjoyed Minton Sparks. I will have to research who she is. I have never heard of her but I liked what she had to offer. Of course, I really enjoyed Joe Diffie's segment as well as Dierks Bentley, I'm a big fan of both. And then there's Marty Stuart - he always lights it up. When he said that the audience needed a Gospel song after drinking, I just laughed, but lay one on us he did. "Boogie Woogie Down the Jericho Road." And he is named after Marty Robbins & in true fashion, has more or less picked up where Marty Robbins left off - Marty Stuart will take an Opry show well past the time that I'm sure he's supposed to. Good for him.

    Sad that the two women from North Dakota that you were speaking with did not stay for the entire Opry show, Bryon. They must have thought that the Opry show was a concert. I would have happily taken one of their seats.

    The one person I got used to hearing these last 10 or so weeks, wasn't on this weekend - Mike Snider.