First up for the weekend was the Classics show on Thursday. Larry Gatlin was the host and Connie Smith was the spotlight artist. Others who performed included William Michael Morgan, The Gatlin Brothers, Rhonda Vincent and Gene Watson. The show was excellent. If you have not had the opportunity to see or her William Michael Morgan, you would be impressed. He currently has the #1 song on the country music charts and his voice and sound is real country. I have seen him now several times at the Opry and have come away impressed each time. In addition to performing on the show, he signed copies of his new CD after the show, drawing an impressive crowd. Rhonda Vincent performed with the Opry Staff Band and stuck to country music. As always with Rhonda, she looked and sounded impressive. And what can you say about Gene Watson? In honor of Larry Gatlin, he performed "Help Me" which was written by Larry and did a great job. Gene and Rhonda also did a duet. Connie Smith, as the spotlight artist, was also excellent. Before the show, I had the chance to meet Connie at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, where she was meeting fans. There were a few people there to visit with Connie and she was signing pictures and copies of her CD. Finally on the show, The Gatlin Brothers did three of their hits, "Broken Lady," "All The Gold In California," and "Houston." And for those who know the format of the show, Larry followed the script and did an excellent job hosting. He does great interplay with the audience and the artists that he introduces. Sometimes he goes into a little bit of overdrive, but he does keep the two hour show moving along.
Next up was the Friday Night Opry. Opry members who hosted segments were Connie Smith, Mike Snider, The Whites and Ricky Skaggs. The only other Opry member on the line-up was Jesse McReynolds. Connie hosted the first segment and was late getting to the show, so the first act up was Jackie Lee. He did two songs, then Connie was introduced and brought on Joe Diffie. Joe sounded good and after he finished up, Connie did several songs. Mike Snider followed, hosting the next segment and he kept it to his string band music. Not much in the way of humor other than is usual about not clapping during his song. He brought on Carly Pearce and Bryan White. Carly is "ok" in my opinion, nothing special. She worked hard for the crowd. Bryan White was impressive, especially given the fact that his father had died on Wednesday night in a car accident. Nothing was said about it and Bryan seemed emotionally under control. He smiled and interacted a bit with the audience.
After the intermission, The Whites were up next, introducing Jesse McReynolds and Chuck Wicks. Jesse did two numbers, which is always a treat as most of his Opry appearances sees him limited to just one number. Chuck Wicks, who is one of the hosts of America's Morning Show, is funny and seemed to really enjoy himself on the Opry. He did a lot of interplay while being introduced by Cheryl White. Closing out the show was Ricky Skaggs, who kept it country for the first song and finished it up with bluegrass on his final number. Ashley Monroe did an excellent job with "In The Garden," which she has done before at the Opry, and Lee Brice closed out the show. Lee just came off a big tour and gave the band the night off. It was just Lee and his guitar. Lee's voice was a little hoarse, but that allowed his voice to have a nice earthy tone while singing two new ballads. Overall it was a nice night that concluded with the singing of Happy Birthday and the first batch of balloons being dropped. All of the artists who performed came back out on stage and sang. Finally, the only non-advertised guest being "Nashville" star Charles Esten, who just stood at the announcers stand, promoting the television show with Eddie Stubbs.
Saturday night was the big birthday night and featured Grand Ole Opry member Brad Paisley. Hosting segments on both shows were Connie Smith, The Whites and Riders In The Sky. The additional segment on each of the shows featured only Brad Paisley, with Mike Snider and Bobby Osborne as the only other Opry members scheduled. Bill Cody was the announcer for this show. The first show started with Connie Smith, who made it on time, hosting. The next act originally scheduled was The Secret Sisters, but instead it was Carly Pearce. The Secret Sisters didn't make it on time for their slot. From what I heard, but not confirmed, is that they were originally scheduled for the third segment of the show, but were changed on Friday to the first segment. Whether they got that information or not, the result was that they were not there. Carly was out performing in the Opry Plaza as part of the birthday entertainment. The Opry went out and brought her in, where she changed clothes and was immediately out on stage singing two songs. After she finished, it was back outside for another set in the plaza. Mike Snider was the third act on the segment and did one long instrumental number. The second segment was hosted by The Whites, and they introduced Bobby Osborne & The Rocky Top X-Press and Mo Pitney. Bobby did two numbers, including "Rocky Top." Mo Pitney, who also appeared in the Opry Plaza, did several songs and was appearing in support of his new CD. Mo is true country, and almost too country for country radio. He is a great young talent who has appeared on the Opry numerous times and I really like him. With two shows, there was no intermission, so it was immediately into the third segment with The Riders In The Sky, minus Ranger Doug, hosting. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and the Opry Square Dances were their guests. For the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, they are out on tour and have been for over 50 years with basically the same original line-up. They did "Mr. Bojangles" and "Fishing In The Dark" with the audience singing along. This was my first time seeing them and as you would expect with such a legendary act, they delivered. The Opry Square Dancers were joined by Buck White who can still kick it. Finally, the final segment was Brad Paisley. He was outstanding, playing up to the crowd, posing for pictures on the edge of the stage and having a great time. Brad had his full band and he concluded his set with "Will the Circle be Unbroken," joined by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. There were two other highlights in Brad's segment. First, Brad talked about being an Opry member and how it was the most important achievement in his career. They then showed the video from the night Bill Anderson, Jeannie Seely and Jimmy Dickens asked Brad to become an Opry member. The other highlight was when Brad performed his new single "Today." A video was played as he sang that included highlights of past and current Opry members, with some of the current members being shown from the night they were asked to become Opry members, or from earlier in their careers. There were so many artists pictured that it was hard to remember all of them but the ones I saw included Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl, Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, George Jones, Johnny Cash, June Carter, The Carter Family, Bobby Lord, Jack Greene, Connie Smith, Rod Brasfield, Jimmy Dickens, Loretta Lynn, Trace Adkins, Little Big Town, Oak Ridge Boys, Blake Shelton, Vince Gill, Amy Grant and so many others. When finished, he received a standing ovation. The show concluded with the birthday cake and the singing of Happy Birthday, joined by those performing from that night.
The second show was very much like the first with just a couple of exceptions. Eddie Stubbs replaced Bill Cody as the announcer and the first segment featured Connie and Mike Snider, with The Secret Sisters making it for this show. Brad Paisley did the 2nd segment, and recreated much of what he did on the first show. The Whites, Mo Pitney and the square dancers followed, with Riders In The Sky and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band finishing up the night. For the third time, the cake was rolled out, but this time it was just the Riders, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Connie Smith joining the singing.
Among other items of note:
- There was a comment or two regarding the previous weekend when Dan Rogers did the tribute to Jean Shepard, instead of Steve Buchanan or Pete Fisher. Some felt it was a sign of some tension between the Opry management and Jean, but apparently that was not the case. From what I heard, both Steve and Pete had the weekend off and were not at the Opry. And speaking of Dan, he seems to be doing more things at the Opry and he did a very nice job reading the tribute.
- The Opry has put the 2017 tickets on sale and for those who are thinking of going to the Opry next year, it is going to cost more money. For the tier 1 seating, the price is now $95, just over $99 including handling fees. That is a $20 increase in pricing. The rest of the tickets also increased, although the other increases were pretty small. with just a dollar or two increase on several of the sections.
- Security is now a big issue at the Opry. To enter the Opry Plaza area on show nights, you now have to pass through security, which included going through scanners, purses and bags being checked and pockets being emptied. While some may object, it really is a reflection of the world that we live in today and anything that makes it safer for the artists and fans, I am all for. The process was very quick as they had plenty of scanners and entry points. Also, there were numerous security guards on the grounds and in the building.
- Margie Bowes was backstage on Saturday night and Connie Smith introduced her during her segment on the second show. Margie was an Opry member from the late 1950's until the 1970's. Margie has battled some health issues over the years, so it was nice to see her at the Opry. Also at the Opry on Saturday was Melvin Sloan. No, he didn't dance.
- Some people have asked about Stonewall Jackson and the fact that the first Saturday in November will be Stonewall's 60th anniversary of when he first joined the Opry (yes, he did leave for a few years), and if the Opry was going to do anything special. I did not hear anything, but considering the past issues between Stonewall and the Opry management, I don't know if anything will take place. It would be nice if the differences could be put to rest and Stonewall came out. He is scheduled to due the Midnight Jamboree that weekend.
Finally, I spent a little bit of time at Hank Snow's former home, the Rainbow Ranch. The house is now under the ownership of relatives of Hank and a lot of work is being done to renovate the home and property. It was a very interesting visit to see what all has been done to the house and the interior of the home. Hopefully their dream comes true and visitors to Nashville, and fans of Hank, will be able to one day stay in the house. Good luck and I will continue to keep everyone posted.
While some may complain about the direction that the Opry has been going in, it is still a great show. Yes, it has changed, some for the better, some not so. And while all of us which that more of the legends and Opry veterans would appear, many have chosen to go in a different direction. And many have retired from performing. Let's appreciate the Opry members, and guests, who do come out to support the show. While the number of artists for the birthday show was small in number, the shows were excellent and it was a great 91st birthday celebration for the Opry.