Saturday, July 4, 2015

2015 Mid-Year Grand Ole Opry Review

With the end of June, the Opry has reached the mid-point of 2015 and their 90th year. I thought it would be a good time to review what has been going on at the Opry so far this year.

2015 has seen the return of a couple of the Opry's long lost members to the Opry stage, as both Garth Brooks and Reba McEntire returned, along with Trisha Yearwood. The year as also seen the Opry lose two of it's longtime members as Jimmy Dickens and Jim Ed Brown passed away. Both had been Opry members for over 50 years.

Through the month of June, there has been a total of 88 Opry shows, with the breakdown showing 26 shows each on Friday and Saturday night, 23 Tuesday Night Opry shows, 3 on Wednesday, 9 Thursday Opry Country Classics, and 1 Saturday matinee show.

As far as the top 10 Opry members and appearances, it looks like this:

1) Mike Snider-47
2) Jeannie Seely-39
3) Connie Smith-36
4) Riders In The Sky/The Whites/Larry Gatlin-34
5) Bill Anderson-31
6) Gatlin Brothers-28
7) John Conlee-27
8) Bobby Osborne-23
9) Ricky Skaggs-19
10) Del McCoury Band-18

Just outside the Top 10 is Vince Gill and Jesse McReynolds, each at 15.

Of the Opry's 63 current members, 46 have made Opry appearances this year. Of the 17 missing, Tom T Hall, Barbara Mandrell, Jeanne Pruett and Ricky Van Shelton are retired, while Randy Travis and Jean Shepard have not been on due to health issues. That leaves Dierks Bentley, Clint Black, Emmylou Harris, Alan Jackson, Stonewall Jackson, Alison Krauss, Martina McBride, Dolly Parton, Blake Shelton, Travis Tritt and Keith Urban. Additionally, Garth Brooks, Hal Ketchum, Patty Loveless, Loretta Lynn, Reba McEntire, Ronnie Milsap and Stu Phillips have made just one appearance each.

The Grand Ole Opry started the year with 65 members. With the deaths of Jimmy Dickens and Jim Ed Brown, Opry membership is down to 63. While there have been no rumors of any future Opry members, Opry Vice-President and General Manager Pete Fisher was asked in a recent interview if any new members would be welcomed between now and the official 90th birthday. His response was, "I honestly do not know. It's really interesting how the next member candidate kind of shapes up. The right people at the right time have come to meet the Opry. One thing that doesn't change is we continue to reach out to the new artists in the community and nuture that relationship, and as their career grows, we hope that they grow even closer to the Opry, but we recognize how demanding that can be with all that an artist has to do to sustain their career. I remember back with Brad Paisley or Carrie making their debut on the Opry, or Taylor Swift even, and seeing them all fill stadiums now, it's fun to see that maturation of careers and to know the Opry's played a part of it."

At least to me, if you read between the lines, Pete Fisher and the Opry management seem to want to help develop new artists and to make sure that the Opry is a big part of their career growth. The two artists that come to mind that they have been successful with are Brad Paisley and Josh Turner. They both were guests on the Opry many, many times before they achieved any hit records, and once they had their first hits, they continued to make guest appearances on the Opry while their careers grew. Eventually both became Opry members, with Josh certainly making a better effort then Brad as far as making appearances. Brad and Josh are not the only ones that the Opry has tried to promote, but other artists , such as Jimmy Wayne or Sarah Darling, never achieved "star" status with their careers. As far as young artists who are currently making guest appearances on the Opry, the most obvious is Chris Janson, who I still believe will be an Opry member at some point. Another act to watch is Love and Theft. From the Opry's standpoint, this probably makes sense as recent new "superstar" members such Black Shelton and Keith Urban seem to have forgotten that they are Opry members.

As far as guest appearances in 2015, the leader is Chris Janson with 18. He is followed by Love and Theft with 11, Jimmy Wayne 10, The Willis Clan 9, and Holly Williams, EmiSunshine, Greg Bates and Charles Esten 7 each.

Ryman Hospitalities, along with the Opry, continue to heavily promote "Nashville" on ABC, which will be back for another season starting in the fall. Numerous actors and actresses from the show have made Opry appearances this year including Charles Esten, Jonathan Jackson, Chris Carmack and Clare Bowen among others.

The Opry continues to have great success at the box office, with most shows sold out or close to it. They are also doing big business with the backstage tours and at the Opry Shop. A huge renovation was recently completed at the Ryman Auditorium, where Opry Country Classics is held, along with the Opry itself, starting in November.

All in all, it has been another interesting year at the Opry, where we continue to see many more guest artists making appearances versus Opry members. And as the Opry continues with its 90th year, plans continue to be made for the birthday celebration in October, which will also include a number of special shows. A couple of dates to watch is September, when Connie Smith will celebrate her 50th year as an Opry member, and October, when Garth Brooks will celebrate 25 years as a member.

And who knows what surprises the rest of the year might bring.


  1. How many appearances does Marty Stuart have this year?? I am still disappointed that he has not shown up often??
    I also feel that more legends would appear if asked, such as Stonewall Jackson.....
    Finally, any news on Jean Sheppard´s health?? I wonder if they will celebrate her 60 years as a member.

  2. Byron, thanks as always.

    I'd like to bow toward Larry Gatlin, who has really stepped up after so many years of not being there. Also, remember that Bill Anderson had surgery for skin cancer and that took him out of commission for a few weeks.

    I would like to think that being an Opry member really does mean something, but any more, does it, really? I would think that if Rhonda Vincent or Dailey and Vincent, to name two acts that would bring some youth to the bluegrass list and would be great members, they would take it seriously and try to be there more than once a decade.

  3. Rhonda should have been asked to join 20 years ago !

    Dashmann - Flushing , Michigan

  4. Nittannee, Marty Stuart checks in with 3 appearances so far this year. I agree that he should be there more often.

    Throwing out a few other names from that generation, Lorrie Morgan has 7, and she has been increasing her Opry appearances this year and has several more already scheduled, and Diamond Rio has 8.

    Nothing new on Jean Shepard and I forgot that this year is her 60th, which would be in November. And yes, Stonewall would be at the Opry more often but I think we all know the reasons behind that. He is set to host an upcoming Midnight Jamboree.

  5. Fred, Bismarck:

    The Stonewall situation is most unfortunate. Pete Fisher is evidently one of those who bides his time and takes his revenge OVER time. I happened to be listening, months ago now, when Stonewall was last on. 'Abject' is the only word that describes his repeated expressions of gratitude to Fisher -- by name, yet -- for having him on. Yet we see what that got him.

    I know it's not good office politics to sue your employer. On the other hand, it's not normal for someone like Fisher to nurse a grudge for so long and to ration out Stonewall's appearances -- apparently the bare minimum the settlement requires -- like so much water torture. A grown man should be ashamed, especially when it deprives Stonewall -- who I doubt is on the road anymore -- of about his last venue.

    I was a country fan already when Stonewall burst on the scene in the late 1950s, and I remember what a huge star he was. (His singing reminded people of Hank Williams.) He deserves better from a show he never forgot, as so many have, when he got big.

  6. I think a lot of people have forgotten how big Stonewall Jackson was in his prime and what a great honky-tonk singer he was. We all know that he came to the Opry and did an audition without having any chart success or even a record deal, and was accepted for the Opry.

    The hits started in 1958 with "Life To Go" (#2), "Waterloo" (#1), "Why I'm Walkin" (#6), "A Wound Time Can't Erase" (#3), "B.J. the D.J." (#1), "Don't Be Angry" (#4), "I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water" (#8), "Stamp Out Loneliness" (#5) and Me and You and A Dog Named Boo" (#7). He was on the charts from 1958 to 1983.

    He has had a Hall of Fame career, and he probably would have received serious consideration if not for the lawsuit against Gaylord and the Opry, especially when you compare his career with a few of the others that are in the Hall. But the lawsuit, and the publicity that it caused, probably ended any chance Stonewall had of getting in, or even talked about.

  7. Going beyond those hits Stonewall had, and digging into his Columbia albums, one finds a lot of great material. As I recall, he didn't do a lot of covers to fill an album either. Similar but not quite as good as Charley Pride's RCA LP's which had few if any clinkers from 66 to 76. One of the first LP's I remember listening to when I was very young was the 1966 Harmony LP The Exiting Stonewall Jackson which was an LP issue of some of his great late 50's Columbis singles. A Little Guy Called Joe, A Broken Heart, A Wedding Band, and Ward of Broken Hearts were some of the songs. Great stuff.

    Leona was also a number 9 hit and one of my favorites from 62 I think.

    When you think of the artist today that make a splash and disappear and 50 years from now may not be remembered, consider a difference from the Stonewall Jackson's, Charlie and Billy Walker's of their time. Although they may have had somewhat limited chart success and today few under 50 have ever heard of them, they left a big catalog of pretty darn good material. They were not really a splash in the pan or a pretty face of the moment. They were just in the shadows of the likes of Price, Cash and Robbins and did not get the promotion they deserved. They worked their buts off recording dozens of songs a year not a dozen songs every five years.

    In that respect, many of them deserve a special place in the HOF even if it is not full induction or membership.

    Stonewall deserves better in his final years.

    Knighstville, IN

  8. I agree. Stonewall Jackson deserves to be treated better by the Opry, and he should be asked to appear more than twice a year. Its already July and the Opry still hasnt asked him to appear. And in reponse to Jim's comment, I am among those under 50 who is a fan of Stonewall, Charlie and Billy, and find it sad that they never got the honors they deserved.

    While I understand why Stonewall isnt on much, I dont understand why its the same deal with Stu Phillips. Stu hasnt sued the Opry, or done anything to cause dishonor to the Opry's legacy, yet he only is scheduled a few times per year. Im sure he is more than willing to be there every week if asked, but for some reason, the Opry doesnt call much anymore.

  9. Kyle, Stu has had some voice issues over the year and is considered a "senior" member of the Opry. There are a few others that fall into that category. Just like last year's birthday celebration when Stu appeared on both shows, if Stu called the Opry and said he wanted to be on, I am sure he would get a spot.

  10. FYI: Connie will celebrate her 50th year as a member on August 8th. The Opry already states that some discounts are not valid for that show.


  11. Thanks. I have no idea why the Opry picked August 8th other than perhaps that is the only date that Marty Stuart could appear, as you would expect him to be there. Connie's first Opry performance as a member was September 18,, 1965, although for years and years, they said it was in June. I know they try to celebrate the anniversaries as close to the date as possible, so like I said, maybe from a scheduling point, this is the best they could do.

  12. I have a question, when was the last time Stonewall sang "Waterloo" on the Opry???