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.