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.