Saturday, January 9, 2016

Grand Ole Opry 2015 Year in Review

With 2015 complete, it is time for the annual "Year in Review" and a look at the numbers from the Grand Ole Opry's 90th year. 

There were a total of 190 Opry shows for the year, which was 6 more then in 2014. The breakdown was as follows, with the change from the previous year:

Friday Night Opry-54 (0)
Saturday Grand Ole Opry-61 (0)
Tuesday Night Opry-50 (+6)
Wednesday Night Opry-8 (-1)
Thursday Opry Country Classics-14 (0)
Saturday Matinee-1 9)0
Tuesday Matinee-1 (0)
Monday Night (special movie filming)-1 (+1)

2015 started with 65 Opry members, Two of the Opry's long time members, Jimmy Dickens and Jim Ed Brown, passed away during the year. Both of these 50+ year members of the Opry were in the "Top 10" of Opry appearances the previous year. In what can truly be called a surprise, no new members were added during the Opry's 90th year. With the Opry really pushing the 90th anniversary of the show, many thought for sure we would see at least one, and possibly more new members added to the ranks. That also means that in the past two years, only two new members have been added, while four Opry members have passed away. As we enter 2016, the Opry membership currently stands at 63.

Of those 65 Opry members that began the year, 54 made at least one appearance with the big surprises being Garth Brooks, who made his first performing Opry appearance since 2005, and Reba McEntire who performed for first time since 2009. The other nice surprise was Larry Gatlin, who made 76 appearances during the past year, while his brothers Larry and Rudy joined him for 62 of those. Those 76 appearances by Larry compares to 23 in 2014. The other big gainers were Mike Snider, who went from 27 appearances in 2014 to 88 this past year, Connie Smith from 62 to 88 and Vince Gill, who appeared 32 times, up from 17 the previous year. 

One of the goals of Steve Buchanan and Pete Fisher has been to ask each Opry member, at least those who have joined since 1999, to appear 10 times each year. It does not matter if it is a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or any other Opry date, as they all count. So of the Opry's 63 members that completed the year, who made the list? 

Looking at the "Top 10", the leader in Opry appearances were Connie Smith and Mike Snider, each with 88. They were closely followed by last year's leader, Jeannie Seely, who came in at 84. The entire "Top 10" list looks as follows: 

1) Connie Smith; Mike Snider-88
2) Jeannie Seely-84
3) Larry Gatlin-76
4) Bill Anderson-72
5) Riders In The Sky-70
6) The Whites-63
7) John Conlee-55
8) Bobby Osborne-54
9) Jesse McReynolds-41
10) Ricky Skaggs-35

As usual, the list is overwhelmingly loaded with Opry veterans. Now as to the rest of the Opry's members, here are those who did make at least 10 appearances in 2015: 

Vince Gill-32
Del McCoury-29
Mel Tillis-17
Lorrie Morgan-16
Diamond Rio-13
Jan Howard, Craig Morgan-11
Terri Clark, Old Crow Medicine Show, Marty Stuart, Carrie Underwood-10

That comes out to 22 of the Opry's 63 members making the "suggested" number of appearances. I congratulate those who help to support the show. 

So what about the other 41? First, there are those who are retired or due to ill health and no longer perform on the Opry. That list includes Tom T. Hall, Barbara Mandrell, Jeanne Pruett and Ricky Van Shelton. Add to that list would be Randy Travis, who while unable to perform did visit Opry 2 times last year, Jean Shepard, who made her only appearance to celebrate her 60th year as an Opry member, and Stonewall Jackson and Stu Phillips, both of whom have had some health issues and quite frankly, are not asked to do the Opry very often. While Stu did make one Opry appearance, Stonewall did not appear at all. As far as the rest, here are the numbers: 

Oak Ridge Boys, Ray Pillow-9
Charlie Daniels, Pam Tillis-8
Trace Adkins, Rascal Flatts, Steve Wariner-7
Joe Diffie, Ralph Stanley-6
Little Big Town, Brad Paisley-5
Darius Rucker, Josh Turner-4
Alison Krauss, Ronnie Milsap, Montgomery Gentry, Blake Shelton-3
Dierks Bentley, Roy Clark, Alan Jackson, Patty Loveless, Loretta Lynn, Charley Pride, Trisha Yearwood-2
Garth Brooks, Hal Ketchum, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire-1
Clint Black, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Travis Tritt, Keith Urban-0

I have no real complaints with those who came close to the 10 appearances, but I find it pretty sad that 5 of the Opry's active members did not make an appearance in 2015. I at least Dolly Parton some recognition as she did do two shows at the Ryman this past year, one of which did benefit the Opry Trust Fund. 

28 of the members hosted at least one segment, with Riders In The Sky on top with 56. They were followed by Jeannie Seely and Connie Smith, each with 55, Bill Anderson with 47 and John Conlee at 40. After that, it drops off to Ricky Skaggs with 32. Joe Diffie, Josh Turner and Terri Clark all hosted for the first time. 

As usual, and following the pattern of the last several years, there were many non-Opry members who made more appearances then the majority of the members. That list was led by Chris Janson, with 28 appearances. The entire list of those who made at least 10 appearances: 

Chris Janson-28
Jimmy Wayne-18
The Willis Clan-17
Charles Esten, Mandy Barnett-15
Jackie Lee, Love and Theft-14
Greg Bates-13
Shelly Skidmore, Exile, Kristian Bush, Mark Wills, JT Hodges-12
Dailey & Vincent, Mo Pitney-11
Striking Matches, EmiSunshine, Holly Williams-10

We should be thankful for not only those listed above, but also all of the artists who have been making guest appearances in place of the Opry members who have not been appearing. All together, 236 non-Opry members made at least one Opry appearance in 2015, down from 267 the year before. And as with the previous year, those associated with "Nashville", the ABC show, had a big presence, with 60 appearances from those who star on the show. 

As I mentioned already, 2015 saw the 60th anniversary of Opry member Jean Shepard, along with the 50th Opry anniversary of Connie Smith. Both tributes were well done. Mike Snider was also recognized for 25 years of Opry membership. We also saw an improvement in the Opry's annual birthday celebration, with a better show then what we saw in 2014. 

All in all, 2015 was pretty similar to the previous couple of years at the Opry. The year saw the passing of several veteran Opry members, a continued shift to younger guest artists, and a reduction in the appearances by some of the veteran Opry members. We also saw the continuing trend of less artists appearing on the shows, particularly on the weekend nights. From what I can tell, 2015 was another very good year at the Opry from a financial and attendance standpoint and the management of Ryman Hospitalities, the owners of the Opry, continue to be pleased with the performance of the show. 

Only time will tell what 2016 will bring. Among the highlights will be the 50th anniversary of Ray Pillow as a member of the Opry, and Vince Gill's 25th anniversary. I am looking forward to both of those nights. I know there are others, such as Clint Black and Alan Jackson, who will be celebrating 25 years of Opry membership, but based on past performance, they may not even show up to acknowledge the occasion. Here's hoping that they will. 

Regardless, I continue to be a fan of the Opry and have great expectations that 2016 will be another good year for the "show that made country music famous."

(As a disclaimer, the recorded number of appearances is based on the tracking that I do of the shows. If there is an error, such as a missed appearance, my apologies.)


  1. Byron, I commend you with another excellent yearly review. However, I was wondering if you have the number of appearances Jim Ed Brown did in 2015?

    If Im not mistaken, Stu Phillips did make 1 appearance in 2015, back in January. And finally, I was thinking of Jean Shepard this week when I heard about the passing of the inventor of the miniskirt. She often joked about him being her great uncle. Unfortunately, the man's name wasn't actually Seymour Hiney!

  2. Darryl Worley again performed "Have You Forgotten " on the Opry tonight. I wish he would consider dropping that song, since the ill - advised excursion into Iraq 13 years ago almost certainly led to the destabilization of the middle east and growth of ISIS or ISIL as you would have it. Dashmann - Flushing, Michigan

    1. The song was actually written after he went and saw troops in Afghanistan, before the Iraq war even started. You do realize he's talking about bin Laden, the World Trade Center, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon, don't you, not Saddam Hussein?

    2. The timing of the song seemed to justify the Iraq invasion ---still we have to get rid of that attack first and ask questions later mentality ---President Obama has tried to emphasize diplomacy over violence, and it just worked with the release of the sailors in the Persian Gulf

  3. Kyle, you are right. Stu did make one appearance this past year. I just forgot to include that. Thanks for keeping me on my toes.

    Jim Ed Brown appeared 16 times. And yes, I will add my little soapbox comment: here was a man, who at the time, was recovering from cancer surgery before a reoccurrence of the disease took his life, and he still made it to the Opry, while you had a few Opry members who couldn't even make it more than once.

    1. Byron, reading about Jim Ed, I am again reminded how a certain host of a Jim Reeves fan site chose to make extremely negative remarks about Jim Ed at the time of his passing. None of us are perfect. (Just read through the biography of Reeves. A lot of that material would make a truck driver blush) The host was upset with the way Jim Ed had some how hurt the legacy of Jim Reeves.
      Glancing through the comments of the fan site, I believe the real reason why the host is upset at Jim Ed is the following:
      (a direct quote from the fan site):
      "BTW, when I was a young man visiting my friend Mary Reeves in Nashville many years ago, I had a chance to meet a lot of the biggest stars. Jim Ed was the only one who was ever downright RUDE to me and I have never forgotten how he treated a teenaged boy from Iowa. And that, friends, is a FACT."
      Go figure. And thank you Byron for your outstanding blog!
      --- Sam D. Lyon, Archer City, TX

    2. I remember reading those comments after Jim Ed passed away. At the very least, they were in poor taste.

    3. Yes, indeed!!!
      Sam - Archer City, TX

  4. EmiSunshine is awesome and true to our country music roots. I sure hope they have her back in 2016!!!!! I can't wait to see her musical journey!

  5. I do wish the Opry would book Emi Sunshine and The Rain more.........Out of the contemporary singers these days EmiSunshine has more of "The old country music" sound/soul than these so called country pop performers ...She covers some of the greats that made country music,, Dolly Parton, Buddy Miller, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn + Emi and the Rain has penned many songs as well.... As your article clearly states some Opry members have not lived up to their obligations.....Is it time for new blood ?? Recruit some new members that have the heart/soul and passion for country music,,, Country Music ain't dead and The Grand Ole Opry helped make country music,,and country music made the Grand Ole Opry..........all comments welcome.........

    1. Brent, I couldn't agree with you more.

  6. Here's what I would say: there are about 150 days out of the year in which an Opry performance is being held. And to pick someone who's old enough to know better, Charlie Daniels could only find his way there on eight of them, and he's carried on about how much becoming a member meant to him? Of course, Brad Paisley keeping his promise to Little Jimmy Dickens to carry on what he did by showing up a massive five times is also awe-inspiring.