Dear Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Fisher:
As someone who has attended and listened to Grand Ole Opry shows for the past 40+ years, I have seen and heard some great moments at the Opry. Among those are the Grand Ole Opry's PBS shows, the 75th anniversary weekend, the Opry's return to the Ryman Auditorium, the 50th anniversary shows of various Opry members, new Opry member inductions, birthday weekends, and last year, the 40th anniversary of the Grand Ole Opry House. There have been so many that I cannot list them all.
I have also seen lots of changes that have taken place at the Grand Ole Opry, some positive, and some not so. The improvements that have been made to the Grand Ole Opry House have been outstanding; items such as better lighting and sound, the expanded gift shop and ticket areas, and the atmosphere of the Opry Plaza. On the negative side, I have seen the number of weekend Opry shows cut back, the length shortened, the number of performers and amount of music per show reduced, veteran Opry members having reduced appearances and a steep rise in ticket prices. Yet even though it all, I have remained a fan of the Opry and hope for the Opry's continued success.
However, when I see Grand Ole Opry line-ups, such as the one for this coming Saturday night, I get discouraged very quickly. I think both of you would have to admit that what you have scheduled for this Saturday night is not the best of Opry line-ups. To see only two segments and three Opry members scheduled is very troublesome, especially considering that the Opry has 63 members. And it is not just the lack of Opry members, but the quality of the line-up in general. Of the eight acts appearing who are not Opry members, two of the performers are actors who performed in a play, another is an actor who stars in a television series, while several of the others are still looking for their first recorded hit records. And this is not the first time we have seen shows such as this scheduled. It seems to be happening more and more. Last Saturday night resulted in a poor line-up and the line-up for the Opry's 89th Birthday Weekend, particularly on Saturday night, might have been the worst birthday show in the Opry's history. Many times I will ask myself if a certain Opry show is worth the premium ticket price of $75, and I think the answer many times is no.
I know you can do better. The real disturbing thing is the lack of Opry members who seem to want to appear on the Opry. For example, Travis Tritt has not appeared on the Grand Ole Opry stage since 2007. Reba McEntire recently made her first Opry appearance in a decade, as did Garth Brooks. Dolly Parton hasn't appeared in several years, while Keith Urban has made just one Opry appearance in two years. I could name a few others such as Brad Paisley, Clint Black, Alan Jackson, Darius Rucker, Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride and Blake Shelton, among others, who seem to appear only once or twice every year. What is really discouraging about these members is that in many of the interviews that they have done, they all say how proud they are of being an Opry member and what Opry membership means to them. Yet, they seldom appear. And while I understand the reluctance to dismiss an Opry member, it has been done in the recent past. The Four Guys and Holly Dunn lost their membership. Perhaps it is time that Travis Tritt lose his.
While I am grateful for the members who did appear during the recent Grand Ole Opry 90th birthday weekend, I think many of us were expecting more. Based on what was being said and written, the expectation was that a large number of the Opry's members would be there for at least part of the weekend and that the 90th anniversary of the Opry would truly be something special. My thanks to Carrie Underwood, Little Big Town, Oak Ridge Boys, Diamond Rio, Joe Diffie, Lorrie Morgan and all of the others who were there. But where were the rest? Mr. Fisher has talked in the past that the goal is to have every new Opry member that is being asked to join the Opry to commit to ten shows per year. Obviously, many of forgotten.
Then there is the reliance and constant booking of the actors from the television series "Nashville." Yes, I know that Opry Entertainment and Mr. Buchanan are producers of the show and I understand about cross promotion, but to devote an entire half hour of the two Saturday birthday shows to "Nashville" was just plain wrong. I realize that "Nashville" is bringing new and younger fans to the Opry and the Opry needs these new fans to survive in the future. But the show is not going to be on the air forever, and when it does end, I am sure that the majority of those actors who have been appearing on the Opry will no longer do so. And besides, I think many of these new fans coming to the Opry want to see the stars of the Opry, not actors portraying themselves as singers.
Over the past dozen years, the Opry seems to be relying more on guests than members. Many of these, such as Rhonda Vincent, Dailey & Vincent, T.G. Sheppard, Chris Janson, Jimmy Wayne, Gene Watson, Crystal Gayle and Love & Theft, just to name a few, appear on the Opry many more times then Opry members. So I ask the question, "Why not offer membership to some of these artists?" After all, it has been a year since a new member has joined the Opry. And speaking of Opry members, the number continues to go down as many of the veteran members have passed away or have retired due to health reasons. And no new members have been added to replace them. Currently there are 63 Opry members, but why not have 70 or 75? Especially if those added as members commit to showing up and performing on the show.
It is not every Opry member that does not support the show. As fans, we should all be grateful that a number of the Opry's more popular members do support the show. Members such as Carrie Underwood, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Larry Gatlin, Diamond Rio and Lorrie Morgan, among many others. And where would the Opry be without the veteran members such as Bill Anderson, John Conlee, Connie Smith and Jeannie Seely.
I do want to mention the additional Opry shows on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night. While I enjoy the additional shows, they seem to have been added at the expense of the traditional weekend shows. Many of the bigger names and popular young artists seem to be showing up more during the week then on the weekend, thus taking away from the historic Saturday night Grand Ole Opry.
In conclusion, let me offer a quote from the December 8, 1964 Nashville Tennessean, that I believe is still relevant today:
"Most of the thousands of people who line up at the Opry House every Friday and Saturday night have traveled long distances to see in person the stars that they have come to love by radio. It must be a disappointment for these fans to arrive at the Opry on this one big night for them and find that their favorite stars have found a more profitable audience in some other state."
Much as those words were true in 1964, they are still true in 2015. Many of those attending the Opry on Saturday night will be there for their first time. Or perhaps due to work or financial concerns, they are only able to come to the Opry once a year and this will be that special night. They will pay $50-$75 for each seat, buy food and drink, perhaps a souvenir to take home, and probably the new 90th anniversary family album. But on this particular Saturday night, will they see any of the Opry's superstars that are pictured in that book? Sorry to say, but the answer will be no. And as they look through that book, I am sure many will be wondering where some of these members are. Surely not at the Opry, at least on this Saturday night. Then I am sure the thought will go through their heads, "Was it worth the price." Many will say no.