2017 is officially in the books and with another new year upon us, it is time once again for my annual "year in review" of the Grand Ole Opry. Here is a brief look:
2017 brought about the resignation of Vice President & General Manager of the Opry Pete Fisher, who finished up his duties in January. Pete had been in charge of the Opry since June 1999. Replacing Pete was Sally Williams, who would be overseeing the Opry in addition to her other duties with Ryman Hospitality.
After a dry spell of over a year, the Grand Ole Opry saw three new members added in 2017. Crystal Gayle joined the cast of the Opry in January, followed by Dailey & Vincent in March. Later in the year Chris Young accepted an invitation to become an Opry member and he joined the cast in October. While three new members were added, the Opry also experience the lost of two of its members as Mel Tillis passed away at the end of the year following an extended illness, and while Montgomery Gentry is continuing on with Eddie Montgomery, his partner Troy Gentry passed away. Adding it all up, the Grand Ole Opry started the year with 61 members and finished with 63.
Besides adding new members, there were also a few other highlights this past year, Stu Phillips celebrated his 50th anniversary as a member of the Opry, in what many assume was his last appearance; Reba McEntire came back to the Opry to celebrate the 40th anniversary of her first guest appearance, and was joined by Dolly Parton; Travis Tritt came back after an absence of almost 10 years to celebrate his 25th anniversary as an Opry member and Marty Stuart's 25th Opry anniversary.
2017 saw the Grand Ole Opry produce 218 shows, which is the highest number in any year since Opryland was in operation, and was an increase of 13 shows from 2016. The year also saw the Opry performing several Sunday night shows for the first time in its history. Looking at the breakdown:
Friday Night Opry: 60 (+4)
Saturday Grand Ole Opry: 69 (-1)
Tuesday Night Opry: 51 (+2)
Wednesday Night Opry: 13 (+2)
Thursday Opry Country Classics: 19 (+3)
Sunday Night Opry: 3 (+3)
Saturday Matinee: 1 (E)
Tuesday Matinee: 2 (E)
2017 also saw a change in the requirements of Opry members. While Pete Fisher was the Opry's boss, he was asking new members to commit to 10 shows per year. However, it seems as if that requirement has been reduced to 6 shows per year, and the Opry is also offering :waivers" to those who are unable to fulfill that commitment. And while a few of the Opry's members did not appear in 2017, specifically Garth Brooks, the Opry feels that these members still contribute by the support that they give the Opry, along with the recognition that comes with being a member. There are also those members who assist the Opry behind the scenes, supporting the show in that manner.
So adding it all up, which Grand Ole Opry members made the most appearances in 2017? Well, the leader for the second year in a row was Mike Snider, clocking in with 126 appearances. As to the entire Top 10, here you go:
1) Mike Snider: 126
2) Jeannie Seely: 103
3) Connie Smith: 98
4) The Whites: 90
5) Bill Anderson: 83
6) Riders In The Sky: 72
7) John Conlee: 58
8) Bobby Osborne: 53
9) Ricky Skaggs: 42
10) Jesse McReynolds: 36
The only change among the names on the list from the previous year was Ricky Skaggs joining and Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers dropping out. For the Gatlins, who came in with 28 appearances (mostly on the Thursday Night shows), it continues a two year drop from a high of 86 appearances in 2015. And as you can see, the veteran Opry members continue to be the artists carrying the heavy load most weeks.
Continuing with the bench-mark of 10 appearances (which has been used as the standard in the past), here are those who made that number:
Dailey & Vincent: 32
Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers: 28
Vince Gill; Del McCoury: 19
Diamond Rio: 15
Crystal Gayle: 13
Lorrie Morgan; Steve Wariner: 12
Charlie Daniels; Oak Ridge Boys: 11
Among the other active members:
Terri Clark; Old Crow Medicine Show; Chris Young: 9
Carrie Underwood: 8
Trace Adkins; Craig Morgan; Rascal Flatts; Darius Rucker; Pam Tillis: 7
Montgomery Gentry; Brad Paisley: 6
Josh Turner: 5
Joe Diffie; Alison Krauss; Little Big Town; Ray Pillow; Blake Shelton; Marty Stuart; Keith Urban: 4
Patty Loveless; Martina McBride; Charley Pride: 3
Dierks Bentley; Hal Ketchum; Reba McEntire: 2
Clint Black; Roy Clark; Loretta Lynn; Ronnie Milsap; Dolly Parton; Stu Phillips; Travis Tritt; Trisha Yearwood: 1
Although retired, Jan Howard made one appearance, and even though he is unable to perform, Randy Travis made 5 visits to the show.
As to active members who did not appear in 2017, that list includes just three: Garth Brooks, Emmylou Harris and Alan Jackson.
Members who are retired include Tom T. Hall, Jan Howard, Barbara Mandrell, Jeanne Pruett and Ricky Van Shelton. We are also assuming that Stu Phillips has now retired and probably the same with Stonewall Jackson.
As to non-members, a total of 282 (give or take one) found their way to the Opry stage this past year. Of that group, Mark Willis, with 27 appearances, was the clubhouse leader. The Top 10:
1) Mark Willis: 27
2) Charles Esten: 24
3) Chris Janson: 21
4) William Michael Morgan: 20
5) Tracy Lawrence; Mandy Barnett: 16
6) Carly Pearce: 15
7) Ashley Campbell; Exile; Henry Cho: 14
8) Maggie Rose; T. Graham Brown: 13
9) LOCASH; Charlie Worsham: 12
10) Kristian Bush: 11
When looking at the number of guest artists who appeared this past year, the trend is continuing where there seems less of an emphasis on Opry members when determining the line-ups for the shows. Much of this is due to the fact that outside of the core group of veteran Opry members, there still seems to be an issue getting enough Opry members to perform on every Opry show. As fans, we should all be grateful that there are those who do wish to perform numerous times on the Opry, even though they are not members. And actually, some of those who do guest appearances, wish they were Opry members. However, the membership door has not been opened for those artists.
2017 was another year of growth at the Opry, as in addition to the number of shows, Ryman Hospitality continues to expand the Opry brand. This past year saw the opening of Opry City Stage in New York, that will showcase country concerts, along with broadcasting live Grand Ole Opry shows from Nashville. Additionally, 2017 saw increased attendance at the Opry. Every indication that I received was that financially, it was a very good year.
2018 will be another year of change at the Opry, starting with the renovation of the Opry House. Included in the plans is an expanded ticket office and Opry Gift Shop, along with a dedicated parking lot strictly for the coming to Opry shows. The work is underway with an expected completion date in October.
What else will 2018 bring? Who knows. While there are no 50 year anniversaries to celebrate this coming year, Jeanne Pruett will celebrate her 45th year as an Opry member, while Ricky Van Shelton and Patty Loveless will be celebrating number 30. Charley Pride, Alison Krauss and Joe Diffie will hit their 25th anniversary in 2018, Diamond Rio will celebrate their 20th year at the Opry while Charlie Daniels, Carrie Underwood and Craig Morgan will celebrate their 10th year as members. Regardless what all happens this coming year, I will continue to be a fan of the Opry and will continue to support the show, both by attending and listening.
As I conclude, and I mention this every year, my thanks again to all who read the blog, especially those who take the time to comment, or email questions and other personal thoughts to me. I always enjoy hearing from everyone. Special thanks go to those who I have met not only this past year, but in other years, while attending Opry shows. I have made many special friends and it is always great to put a face with a name. To those who I have never met, either due to distance or timing, don't despair. It could still happen someday. Again, my thanks to all!!!
(*As a disclaimer, the recorded number of appearances is based on the tracking that I do of each Opry show. If there is an error, such as a missed appearance, my apologies. Additionally, the thoughts and opinions written are those of myself, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Grand Ole Opry or its management).