Sunday, October 4, 2015

Opry 90th Birthday Weekend Recap

I have been reading the various comments that have been left regarding the Opry's 90th birthday weekend and instead of responding to each one, I thought I would just start a new post and not only respond to the various comments, but also offer my thoughts on the weekend.

To respond to a couple of items:

On the original schedule, Montgomery Gentry was scheduled to appear on Friday night. Obviously with the tragic situation that took place, they cancelled out. I don't think that the cancellation had much of an effect on the Friday show as most of the artists that appeared as previously been scheduled.

Regarding the Friday Night Opry, which I thought was the stronger of the two nights. Little Big Town and Old Crow Medicine Show were the obvious highlights. Both did 3 songs, with Old Crow doing "Wagon Wheel" on both shows and Little Big Town doing "Girl Crush" on both shows. The audience really responded to both acts. All of the acts did a great job. Lorrie Morgan did "Candy Kisses" on the second show, in a dedication to her father, Hall of Fame member George Morgan. Jan Howard was well received and I have to admit that I did not catch Marty Roe calling her "Jan Brown." It must have come out clearer on the radio then in the Opry House. Bobby Osborne did "Rocky Top" on both shows, while Jeannie Seely did "Don't Touch Me." Riders In The Sky was missing Ranger Doug, who was off with Vince Gill and The Time Jumpers in California. He was back for Saturday night. No complaints about Joe Diffie, or for the only non-Opry member on the schedule, JT Hodges. And I did want to mention that Little Big Town started to sing "Elvira" on the first show, and were joined in a surprise appearance by the Oak Ridge Boys.

Finally, a few words about Larry Gatlin, along with Steve and Rudy. They did the Opry Country Classics show on Thursday night, along with all 4 Opry shows over the weekend. You can say what you want about Larry, but he really adds a lot to the show. When doing "Houston" as the opening number, he goes out into the audience and dances with the ladies, including several grandmothers, takes popcorn from unsuspecting fans, walks up the isle and shakes hands, and will kid those who come in late. All at the same time while singing. I don't know what kind of deal the Opry management made with Larry over the past couple of years, but he has really stepped it up at the Opry, and in some ways, he is becoming the current face of the show. And not only is he doing these Opry appearances but he is also doing a Christmas show at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. Like I said, I don't know what kind of deal the Opry made with Larry, but I am glad that they did. He, along with his brothers, will probably end up in the top 5 as far as Opry appearances for the year. All this from a person who was missing from the Opry for a few decades. And on Christmas Day, they will be celebrating 39 years as Opry members.

Now let's talk about Saturday as there has been much discussion about the "Nashville" booking. From what I can tell, this was a planned booking for the birthday weekend and did not replace anyone. A vast majority of the Opry's members were booked out on the road Saturday night, leaving a big hole in the schedule and as a reminder, Ryman Hospitalities, the owners of the Opry and WSM, financially support the "Nashville" show, and Steve Buchanan is one of the producers. For whatever some of us think about "Nashville," the cross promotion of the show with the Opry is drawing new fans to the Opry. As far as the segment, although the Opry program listed no host, Charles Esten filled that role. While some have mentioned the fact of a non-Opry member hosting a segment (and I agree that only Opry members should host), non-members have hosted segments before, including back in the Prince Albert days. And we also know that during the CMT and GAC television runs, there were many times when there was not a segment host.

As far as the actors who were on that segment, at least they didn't ask Charles Esten to become an Opry member, which would not have surprised me. For those who have not seen him, or were not there, he was actually an excellent host and does have a very nice voice. Not so sure about the song selection however. He had a good country band with him. As far as the others, I was not really impressed. I suppose that if more Opry members were available, then this segment would not have taken place. How was it received by those in the audience? I can honestly say that those who are fans of the show liked it, while those who were not were very vocal in their comments.

Also appearing on Saturday night was Carrie Underwood. She looked dazzling and sounded great. For those who did not listen, she sang the Dolly Parton hit, "9-5" on both shows and she had the words to the song on a teleprompter along the back wall. Based on her actions during the song, she really didn't make much eye contact with the teleprompter so I am thinking it was just there as a safety net. I was told that she was practicing the song back stage before she came on. Trace Adkins did a very nice job on both shows, and said he told management that he wanted to host the 100th celebration. And the Oak Ridge Boys were impressive. And that included the Saturday afternoon birthday concert where they did a fulls stage show.

Overall, I would say that while the number of artists per show was down, the quality was good, much better than last year, which was probably the historical low point regarding Opry birthday weekends. And except for a brief appearance by Robin Roberts to introduce Carrie Underwood during the first show, there were no other special guests.

On a few other topics:

The Opry has made a few changes and has redesigned their logo for the 90th year. They also changed the style of lettering on the backdrop, making it a little larger and have made a few small changes to the backdrop itself. The Opry has also added some additional signage to the outside area of the Opry Plaza.

The Opry Plaza birthday party, with the free entertainment, was really affected by the cold and wet weather. The temperatures were in the low 50's and there was a steady rain Friday and Saturday. They moved some of the activities from the outdoor stage to under the overhang and I was actually impressed with the size of the crowd considering the weather. And if you have not seen Fiddlin' Carson Peters, you need to. The young man has talent and is pretty funny.

All 4 Opry shows were sold-out. The Oak Ridge Boys birthday concert probably drew around 2,000, while Opry Country Classics was about 2/3 filled. I didn't mention the classics show, which featured Crystal Gayle, Chuck Mead, Mandy Barnett and Ronnie Robbins, along with hosts Larry Gatlin and The Gatlin Brothers. It was my first time to see Ronnie and he does sound a lot like Marty. He did "El Paso" and "Don't Worry." On "El Paso." the Gatlin Brothers sang back up.

The video that was shown in the Opry House was mentioned. And yes, it was just the younger members including Little Big Town and Blake Shelton and several of the guest artists including Charles Esten.

The Opry has started giving out a new "award" to its members commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Opry. They have a new wall in back that has slots that list each current Opry member and they are giving replicas to the members to have. Over the weekend. Little Big Town, Oak Ridge Boys, Larry, Steve and Rudy Gatlin and Jeannie Seely were presented theirs on stage. Last Tuesday night, Dierks Bentley received his. I have a feeling that a few others were presented backstage to other Opry members. The goal is for each member to receive one.

One question that did come up was regarding new members, and no, I have heard no rumors. The Opry has lost 4 members since Little Big Town was added and right now, I have no idea what Pete Fisher is thinking. I really don't think the Opry will let the 90th year go by without adding someone, but who knows in today's world.

The other question had to do with Jean Shepard. I heard that she was at the ROPE Awards on Thursday night. In November, she will be celebrating 60 years as an Opry member, which would put her at either 2 or 3 on the list of Opry members (I would have to look it up to be sure but Herman Crook might be it as far as ahead of her), and I have been told that she will be making every effort to be at the Opry on the night of her 60th.

Finally, on a personal note, my thanks to those who came up to introduce themselves to me. It was nice seeing new faces from those who read and comment on the blog, and it was equally nice to see those who I have seen in past years. In many ways, that is the highlight of the weekend. It is nice to know that I am not alone out in the wilderness and many feel the same way I do about the Opry. I know many of us say each year that this birthday weekend will be the last for us, but I just have a feeling that I will see most of you again next year. And hopefully a few more after that. Let's all make it our goal to make it to the 100th. If Trace Adkins says he will be there, then the rest of us should try to make it too.

Let the comments begin and if I happen to think of anything else of interest, I will surely add it. As for me, it was a long weekend of shows and travel, so with that, I will sign off for now.

Again, my thanks to all.


  1. Very nice recap, Byron. So happy that the line-ups this year for everyone who attended the 90th birthday celebration were what they were & that you & your co-audience members enjoyed the music & that you had a wonderful time in Nashville, Byron. Being in attendance last year, the line-ups were not that great. I won't even pretend to know what all goes into zeroing in one's touring schedule around a certain weekend, or anything about touring schedules themselves, so I can't & won't criticize who was not there.

    I thoroughly enjoyed listening in to both nights - unfortunately, I was unable to listen to Thursday's Opry Country Classics show - I would have loved to have heard Chuck Mead, I'm a huge fan of his with his Grassy Knoll Boys (boy do I love that name - SO old school - love it!) & when he was with BR-549. And I would have loved to hear Fiddlin' Carson Peters - HE is the real deal, (as well as EmiSunshine), both so impressive for their very young ages.

    I thoroughly enjoyed every artist/group - from The Gatlin Brothers to the Mighty Oaks to Lorrie Morgan to Little Big Town to Old Crow & everyone in-between. I like Carrie Underwood, just not a fan of most of her music. But she supports the Opry during "Fan Fair" & this year's birthday celebration, so for me, she ranks right up there with Trace Adkins. And yes, I did hear her sing 9 to 5 - she did a really good job on it as well. AND I LOVED hearing "Till the Rivers All Run Dry" sung by Trace Adkins - he did Don Williams proud, in my opinion. When Trace does a "quiet song", his very distinctive deep voice is just beautiful. And I really do believe that he just loves being an Opry member, especially with his comment that he would be there for the 100th birthday celebration.

    Thank you for providing all the pictures you did on Facebook. I really appreciate your efforts. Lorrie Morgan & Carrie Underwood had to have had a little chat on what they were going to wear - both dazzled in sparkling silver - those two women sure can dress to the nines & both sure can sing. I am happy that the Opry makes sure you get a very nice seat in the house - good for the Opry & good for you, Byron.

    Was interested in reading about the Johnny Cash, George Jones & Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum(s) - so you weren't too impressed with the Johnny Cash museum but loved the George Jones Museum? Anything new at the CMHoF, except they are getting ready for their Medallion Ceremony in a few weeks. So sad to learn about Bonnie Brown. One night last week, now I forget what day, RFD-TV, has a news show that broadcasts at 6:30 Central time. RFD-TV interviewed Bonnie after she revealed she is undergoing treatment. Unfortunately, I could see the signs of weight loss on her. My thoughts & prayers go out to her & her sister, Maxine. What a terribly sad year for their family.

    Just a side note to all of this Opry discussion. I watched the Marty Stuart show earlier this evening & Marty's guest was the late, great Jimmy C Newman - as soon as his band started the very familiar Cajun music, I realized just how wonderful that music truly is & how much I really MISS Jimmy C & his Cajun music on the Opry every week or every other week. And it does not appear to me that the Opry is going to "go there" any time too soon. That to me is really very sad. Such peppy, infectious music, with the wonderful sound of the squeeze box & fiddle. Just wonderful but now gone from the Opry. :-(

    Thanks again for a wonderful recap & pictures, Byron. So glad you had a wonderful time, even with the lousy weather, I remember it being cool & rainy last year as well.


  2. Thanks for the great report Byron. Glad you had a good time but I bet you are wore out. That is a lot of shows to attend in four days!

    Larry Gatlin has really grown on me in the last couple of years since his return to the Opry and his radio show on WSM. I'm sure part of my interest is because he has a connection and respect for a earlier generation but also appreciates the new artists and thus is a bridge between the two. His audience invasion reminds me of Porter Wagoner and I think it makes for a lot of fun for those he picks on in the crowd and for the entire house. In this crazy PC world we live in I'm surprised that he and Mike Snider get by with some of their comments! I like them though!

    I did not make it to the ROPE show but had friends who did. They said that Jean Shepard WAS there along with Gus from Springer Mountain Farms Chicken. Jeannie Seely and Tin Atwood did the performance and they said it was a very good show. Sounds like it might be the same set that they will be doing on the Midnite Jamboree in a few weeks.

    Thanks again for the report and for working so hard to keep us informed.

    Knightsville, IN

  3. Great recap!

    It would not surprise me at all if Miranda Lambert was asked to be a member on Tuesday. Didn't the Opry have her Cause for Paws in the plaza over the weekend?

    Also, Chip Esten is wonderful at improv so it doesn't surprise me that he was an excellent host.


  4. Byron, thanks for the great report. It sounds like it was a wonderful birthday weekend. We can compare it with previous weekends, and of course we do, but let's face facts: the Mount Rushmore group from the Opry (Mr. Acuff, Mr. Monroe, Minnie Pearl, et al) are gone, and we can't bring them back. We have to pay tribute to the good that we have, and this weekend did.

    Larry Gatlin is the first person I can recall going into the audience like that since Porter Wagoner, and he really was the Opry's "face" after Mr. Acuff. I'm glad the Gatlin boys are being good to the Opry, and I hope it's being good to them.

    On the numbers, the "Crook Brothers" were the only ones who were members longer than Jean Shepard. So we can say she's #2 as a member, but #3 in tenure behind both Herman Crook and Lewis Crook. Allowing for the year Mr. Acuff was away, Bashful Brother Oswald was part of the Opry for more than 60 years, but not as a member.

  5. Mike, yes the Crook Brothers would be number one, specifically Herman Crook. There could be some debate regarding Lewis Crook as he did not come to the Opry at the same time as Lewis Crook and the Crook Brothers name was officially retired when Herman died in 1988. Also, I don't think Lewis was ever considered an individual member.

    Jeanene: I may have left the wrong impression on my Facebook page regarding the George Jones/Johnny Cash Museums. I really did like the Cash Museum and thought it was well done. I did go to the Cash Museum on this visit but did not do the tour, which I had done previously. The shop has added some space in the entrance area and a small café. As far as the George Jones Museum, it was larger in size and laid out very well. $18 with AAA to get in, which I think is the same as the Cash place. I just thought on a personal basis that the Jones Museum was a little easier to get around in.

    Also, the Country Music Hall of Fame has added a Sam Phillips exhibit which is very interesting and the Dylan, Cash and Nashville Cats exhibit is also very well done. Definitely worth the trip.

    Yes, I would agree that the birthday weekend is certainly not like it used to be and never will be (well, maybe the 100th). But considering what the Opry is today, I thought they did a nice job.

  6. For those keeping track of Opry dates, I went into my files and here is what I have:

    The Crook Brothers, featuring Herman Crook, made their first WSM Barn Dance appearance on July 24, 1926. Herman's final Opry show was on June 4, 1988. That comes out to 61 years and 10 months.

    At the time they joined, the Crook Brothers included Herman and his brother Matthew. In 1926 and 1927, they made occasional appearances and beginning in 1928 they were on more frequently. What is also interesting is that in 1928, they were regulars on the WSM Barn Dance and on the WLAC Barn Dance program. That was because there were so many string bands on WSM that they were scheduled only every other week, which allowed them to be on WLAC on the weeks they were not scheduled on WSM.

    Lewis Crook, no relation to Herman and Matthew, joined the Crook Brothers in the fall of 1929, which by then included not only Herman, Matthew and Lewis, but also Bill Etter on piano and Clarence Minton on guitar. Right around 1930, Matthew quit the band to become a police officer in Nashville. From that time forward, various individuals would become part of the Crook Brothers. After Herman died in 1988, Lewis continued at the Opry part-time, until his death on April 12, 1997, although I believe that he last appeared on the Opry in 1996.

    Again, while looking through my records, the Crook Brothers were considered Opry members, however when Herman Crook passed away, the Crook Brothers name no longer appeared as a part of the Opry and the name of the square dance band became simply known as the Opry Square Dance Band, with Earl White and Charlie Collins as the predominate members.

    I guess you can say that Lewis Crook appeared on the Opry for 66 years, however he was not an actual Opry member.

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  8. What a thoroughly enjoyable read this was.
    THANKS Byron for all you do.
    Writing takes time when done well, and yours is excellent.
    ps. sorry for the removal above. Didn't want to post anonymously.

  9. Thanks for your reporting. I was wondering if Moe Pitney has done the Opry many times. To me, he would be a good artist to be groomed for Opry membership. In my opinion, he would be a far greater choice than Chris Jansen.

  10. Thanks for the recap. I was there for the Friday and Saturday night shows, plus the Oak Ridge Boys concert on Saturday afternoon. We were disappointed that the Opry Plaza shows were pretty much rained out, but we saw a lot of good music anyway! My only wish is that the Opry would go back to 2½ hours. With the higher ticket prices and shorter show times, it will be hard to justify the long trip and hotel costs. All in all, it was a great weekend.