Artists Pay Tribute To The Grand Ole Opry: Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Ketch Secor, More
Like so many of us, I have always considered the Opry our church. It deserves that kind of reverence for all it means to many for so many years. You’ll never see me in jeans or sneakers on the Opry stage, I wouldn’t wear them to church either! I feel the history of everything and everyone that has come before me any time I enter that sacred space. There’s a dressing room dedicated to the Women of Country and that is always where I get ready any time I’m performing at the Opry. I feel that incredible female energy and I am never not filled with gratitude for the opportunity to be there.
The Grand Ole Opry is the most influential radio show and live venue in the history of Country Music. There is no way of telling how important the Opry has been to the creation and expansion of the sound of country music but also the name Country Music. WSM 650 radio is by far the most celebrated country radio station in history. When Opry member Bill Monroe came on stage with a “new sound” called Bluegrass music in 1945, WSM and the Grand Ole Opry was right there to showcase this new sound, long before Columbia Records released their records. So in all honesty, the Grand Ole Opry birthed this new sound of Bluegrass. The folks in the hills and hollers of Appalachia thought they’d died and gone to hillbilly heaven. COVID-19 has done its destruction in a lot of places, but the Grand Ole Opry is not one of them. That’s just one of many stories of the Opry. I’m very honored to have been a member since 1982!
I came to Nashville, went to the Opry, saw a show and became aware of the hallowed “Family.” … The first time I got to play was ’92 or ’93. The iconic Australian country artist in history, Slim Dusty, was going to play the Opry. And he called to ask if I’d come and play in his band. He knew I’d just moved to America to play music, and he reached out. It was at the Ryman, I remember that, and standing backstage, waiting. I was nervous because it was the Opry. I was nervous because I was playing with someone like Slim Dusty … and really, really excited for both those reasons. I remember standing back on the stage, playing those songs with Slim up front, wondering if I’d ever get to sing on that stage. I never ever thought about being a member. I probably thought you had to be born in America to be a member, like the President, because it’s so sacred.
The Opry is not a building or a show or anything one can easily name. It’s a gathering on Friday and Saturday nights where a musical family gets together, lets their hair down then romps and stomps and laughs and cries its way through some of the greatest songs ever written! It’s kind of a waste of time to try to corral or name it anything but the Grand Ole Opry … You must experience it, then you can call it whatever you want to … I’ll just call it my home away from home. And I’m grateful beyond measure to have been able to do just that for more than 43 years… THANK YOU GOD.
I still get butterflies when I go onstage at the Opry. But once I get out there, without fail, I feel so much love coming from that audience in particular. It’s like a big warm hug. And I always feel a little in awe of the people that have been on that stage before me, especially when we get to do the Opry at the Ryman Auditorium. [When I released Timeless in 2005], the Opry let me do a whole hour show. I got to sing “Heartaches By The Number” with Ray Price, “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden” with Lynn Anderson, and “Once A Day” with Connie Smith. It was an unforgettable night singing the songs I love so much on the stage where they were originally sung by these country music legends.
We only played it one time, because we’re really a rock & roll band, but we played “That Mountain,” a song I wrote with Marty Stuart from my first album. I’d listened to it, because my grandparents listened to it – and there really is nothing like it. It’s like doing “Saturday Night Live.” You just wanna get it over with, then when you’re done, you wish it’d last all night. Once we got out there, we were pretty nervous. I remember waiting to go on, and coming off. But it was such a friendly backstage, that Opry vibe! The Oak Ridge Boys were there, Larry Gatlin, and everyone’s hanging out. It’s just, wonderful.
I’m just an Oklahoma girl, but I know the reverence of that stage. Growing up I always wanted to make it there and I finally did. It took a long time, a lot of different paths through Broadway to get to stand on that stage … I have a secret: One time when I was in college, I was a freshman … I went over to the Grand Ole Opry, and said, “Can I come in?,” and a stagehand let me in. I got to go and stand right there, right there center stage and I know what that meant. I have never forgotten it.
In 2016, I performed “Five More Minutes” there for the first time. I was between labels and wasn’t quite sure what my next move was going to be, but I believed in that song. The applause and standing ovation I received from the audience gave me a huge boost of confidence. Then the Opry put that performance on their YouTube channel and I received letters and social media posts from around the world. I knew then that everything was going to work out somehow … and over the next couple of years it did. I signed with a new label and “Five More Minutes” became my first No. 1 hit, fulfilling another goal of mine. Thanks to the Opry and its belief in me, I knew I had been accepted and had a place in country music. I always love playing there.
Everything about country music changes. It’s always in a state of evolution. The Grand Ole Opry though has mastered the art of honoring tradition all while staying in step with the times. I take comfort in the Grand Ole Opry’s oak-like presence. It’s always there to be counted on and long after I’m gone, I have no doubt it will serve others in much the same way.
For my 25 years at the Opry, they asked me who I wanted to celebrate. I said, “Vince, and Loretta, and Dolly.” I felt like I was really the one being celebrated. And when I looked at Loretta, I thought, “This is what it’s all about…” When she went out to sing, I thought, “Well, the show’s over!”
I’ve always had these artists I’ve looked up to, wanted to be as great as they are. They make me want to prove I deserve to be on that stage where they’ve all been. They inspire that in all of us. I got to experience David Akeman, “Stringbean,” and Grandpa Jones; there was a real spirit to the comedians, when I think about seeing them. Or watching Connie Smith go out and sing … I got to experience those moments the way a lot of the younger artists wonder about today. And that spirit, that sense of family – the first people most of us ever sing for – continues on for the newer artists today. It’s always been that you watched the other performers and learned, and you’d have a real appreciation of what they did and what the Opry was all about. The Opry is a major icon itself! It will live on and shine for many, many years to come. You can feel it in the hallways, and you can feel it in the love from the audience.
I left Canada in a Honda Civic at 18 with my mom and a family friend. When we crossed the border, the customs officer asked “Where are you going?” And I replied loudly from the back seat, “The Grand Ole Opry !!”
He looked at the guitar case beside me and waved us through. I had no intention of coming back. Before my mom had to return to Canada and left me to pave my own way, we attended an Opry show – and I visualized myself standing on that stage. By that point, I had seen “Coal Miner’s Daughter” umpteen times, had read every bit of country music literature I could get my hands on.
Every time I walk onto the Opry stage, I feel the spirit of all the trailblazers who came before me, how hard they worked to get there. The Opry is history, and it’s still making history as the only radio program to never miss a show, to always be there to bring the music to the fans.
The halls and dressing rooms are mini museums that freeze moments in time. I feel like the kid who snuck into the back door of the house party with all the cool kids, and they let me stay.
I came to Nashville at 19 years old.
Sally Williams brought us here to play in front of the Opry House, on the Plaza. To go from that, to being a member? The Opry is a champion of ingenuity, of creating new ways of experiencing, it’s must-see entertainment, where the best of the best go to reach the ever-loving country music audience. It’s a place where I can play Roy Acuff’s violin. I feel supercharged drawing a bow across it. That’s the high-water mark for Old Crow.
And it’s a place that serves as an early launch pad in mainstream country music. So many artists who are going on to win big awards can get a toehold and really establish a place. Look at the history.
Loretta Lynn having such an incredible debut, curtain call after curtain call. Hank Williams having so many encores, he ran out of material. Or DeFord Bailey being a presence in the segregated South of Black people, Black music’s role in country music. In 1927, when George D. Hayes said – as DeFord was playing – “Now that folks is a Grand Ole Opry.” (Today’s) new artists may’ve done it 25 or 50 times before they hit, but their Opry foundation is established.
I always say the two things I wanted were to hear my songs played on the radio and perform on the Grand Ole Opry – not even be a member, just perform. When I stepped into the circle for the first time – February 13, 2013 – I knew I was home. I played that stage more than 150 times over the next five years, not because I was gunning to be a member, but because I truly loved being an ambassador for country music and its history. The biggest, proudest, most humbling surprise of my professional life was at my first headlining Ryman Auditorium show in 2018, and my friend Keith Urban invited me to join the Opry family. Two months later, the legendary Garth Brooks did my induction. It means everything to me, knowing those two men believe in me and what I bring to country music. I’ll forever honor my commitment to and passion for the Grand Ole Opry.