One of our “Ask Bill” letters this month dealt with the late Dave “Stringbean” Akeman, and shortly after that letter arrived this grainy old picture from back in the sixties popped up as well. This was String appearing on my portion of the Grand Ole Opry reading one of his trademark “letters from home.” The audiences loved those, and so did I. In the second picture, you can see how happy Jamey Johnson was after I told him he’d never be a guest on the Opry again…that the next time he walked on that stage it would be the night of his induction as a regular member of the Opry cast. He had been hoping to join for a long time, and lots of us had been wanting him as a member of the Opry “family.” His induction is set for May 14th. It’s always fun to be invited to Larry’s Country Diner, and I figured if I got close to Renee The Waitress that she might save me an extra large slice of her delicious pecan pie. She did, and a good time was had by all. My appearances on the Diner TV show on RFD-TV will be on the 14th and the 16th of this month.
Our first picture this month was taken at the recent Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Dinner & Award Show when the great writer, Bobby Braddock, and I joined up for a visit. Bobby, who has written some of the greatest country songs in history, had recently been honored with the Kris Kristofferson Lifetime Achievement Award, and I was congratulating him. If anyone ever deserved that honor Bobby most definitely did. The second picture is of the three hombres who wrote our new single record, “The Country I Grew Up With.” Left to right it’s Lance Miller, myself, and Bobby Tomberlin. We’re all three extremely excited about our upcoming release, but on the day this picture was taken we had been back in the writing room trying to crank out another one. Songwriters never seem to know when to stop pushing their luck! I wanted you to see the bottom photo if for no other reason than to show you how colorful the Opry stage is these days with our new illuminated barn backdrop. It recalls the rich, almost 100-year history of the Opry but in the style and brilliance of today. You can tell by the smile on my face that those of us who get to stand in front of it on a regular basis are the lucky ones.
The Grand Ole Opry celebrates its 98th birthday this month, and people are always asking me how the show has changed over the years. It has evolved with the passage of time, of course, but one thing remains the same: That warm, special feeling of camaraderie and togetherness which exists in very few other places. I hope the spirit of the show and of its members never changes. Whether I’m on stage, as I am in the first picture here, or visiting backstage with fellow artists like Chris Janson (I told him I was NOT going to buy him a boat!) and T. Graham Brown, the Opry brotherhood/sisterhood is something unique and very special. And it includes not only the artists but their families as well. T. Graham’s wife, Sheila, sent me a fresh supply of her incredible homemade pimento cheese, a loaf of bread to make sandwiches, and some delicious homemade cookies last weekend, just because, as she wrote in a note, “we love you.” May the Opry continue to prosper and soar for at least another 98 years!
You can see from this first picture that Sara Evans became very emotional when I asked her if she would like to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Sara was headlining her own concert at the Ryman when some of us (me, Lady A, and Carly Pearce) broke in to present her with an award and pop this very special question. Sara will be officially inducted into the Opry family on October 7th. The second picture is that of a young Bev Porter as she appeared in her early days as the keyboard player and background vocalist in my Po’ Folks Band. Many of you met Bev and heard her play both at the Opry and on our tours over the years. As I indicated earlier in my letter, she was an important part of all that I did back in the eighties.The third picture was taken backstage at the Opry where I recently had the chance to catch up with Becky Isaacs Bowman of the singing group, The Isaacs. As you probably know, Becky was seriously injured in a head-on car crash back in December and has had to undergo several surgeries and intensive rehab. Her spirit, her faith, and her attitude have not wavered, though, and it was wonderful to share some moments with her. What a light of positivity and optimism she is.