March 17, 2014
And Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
As most of you probably know by now, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the “new” Grand Ole Opry House over the weekend, and it was quite a party.
To those of us who cut our Opry teeth at the Ryman Auditorium, I guess the Opry House will always be the “new” place, even though we’ve been there forty years now. The show was held at the Ryman for only thirty-one.
A lot of laughs, a lot of music, and a lot of memories were in the air both Friday and Saturday nights, and that’s as it should have been. I couldn’t help but recall that my mom and dad had driven up from Georgia for that special weekend back in 1974. They wanted to be in the audience for the final Opry show at the Ryman and the first one at the new place, and they were. It obviously meant more to them than I realized at the time. When I was going through some of my dad’s papers following his death in 2003, I discovered he had kept the faded Opry program from those shows tucked away among his most prized souvenirs.
I’ve always appreciated the fact that in designing the Opry House, the powers-that-be felt that carrying forth the tradition of the Ryman was important. That’s why they installed church-pew seats rather that theater-style chairs. And the aisles were left wide enough for fans to easily move in and out as they’d come down front to take pictures.
Saturday night, tradition was evident once again as the entire cast gathered on stage to sing the opening song in tribute to Roy Acuff…his signature “Wabash Cannonball.” Mr. Roy had performed that song forty years before, segueing from a 1940’s black and white film clip into his live performance as the “big red curtain” rose for the first time. Led by the Opry’s newest members, The Old Crow Medicine Show, we segued from a recording of Mr. Roy’s 1974 performance right into a live 2014 version. Veterans like Little Jimmy Dickens, Jean Shepard, Bobby Osborne, Jeanne Seely, Connie Smith and myself stood alongside Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Josh Turner, Clint Black and others, some of whom weren’t even born in 1974.
The media was there in droves, and by the time I got home shortly after midnight pictures and stories of our big night were already bouncing around the internet. Many of you are telling me now that you saw the feature story Sunday on the NBC Nightly News.
More than one reporter asked me what it means to be a part of the Grand Ole Opry family. I told them that membership in the Opry is the top rung on the ladder insofar as a career in country music is concerned. And I said that the view from that top rung is pretty spectacular.
It truly is….and it never looked or felt any more spectacular than it did last Saturday night.