Bobby Bones: The Opry’s Gen-Z Steward
Chris Hollo – Bobby Bones
Looking at Bobby Bones, he doesn’t seem like the Opry-type. But the youngest National Radio Hall of Fame inductee grew up listening with his maternal grandmother, who raised him in Mountain Pine, Arkansas.
While Bones rocked WSIX-FM when he arrived in Nashville to anchor iHeart’s mornings with his nationally-syndicated “The Bobby Bones Show,” the bespectacled musician and comedian is, since February the host and producer of Circle’s Saturday night crown jewel “Opry” and says he can think of no higher honor than stewarding the Opry for the next generations.
“My relationship with the Opry is one of my proudest things,” says the multiple CMA and ACM National Radio Personality of the Year winner. “I wanted to be involved with this… (This show) was a lot of me going to them, saying, ‘If you’re gonna [put the Opry on Circle], let me be part of it.’
“I want the Opry to not just maintain, but grow it with Gen Z, because before you know it, Gen Z’ll be running it. I know the power of the Opry. I’m doing this to make my Grandma proud. Because we spent so much time listening, it opened up so many conversations between us when she was 60 and I was 9.”
Bones, 40, who’s played the Opry 16 times, resuscitates its comedic tradition. Still a bit in awe, he says of his Opry debut, “I did what comics never do: I covered a joke. My last joke was Jerry Clower. For my Grandmother.”
He cites the power of Clower, Ray Stevens and even Jeff Foxworthy’s Blue Collar Comedy crew to speak truth to people living between the media centers. “I’m from a very rural Southern town of 700. They talked about church, small town stuff you’d have to live to know…”
Not that Bones remains there. Aside from winning “Dancing with the Stars,” being a mentor on “American Idol,” authoring two New York Times best-sellers and even co-hosting Kelly Ripa’s “Live” morning show, the spiky haired musician/stand-up comic is more concerned with doing right by the future of country music’s most enduring institution.
Opry President Scott Bailey explains, “As both an executive producer and host, Bobby has the opportunity to collaborate with our Grand Ole Opry team and present the Opry in a way that complements the live radio broadcast with an insider’s unique perspective of what goes on behind the curtain of country’s most famous stage.”
Debuting Feb. 26, 2020, Bones helped the Opry pivot when COVID-19 shutdown live music. “The forward thinking of the Opry,” Bones says, “when nothing was opening up, that progressive thinking they don’t get enough credit for. Because the Opry showed what it does best: put the music in people’s homes at a time they really need it.
“Those artists came and played. No one was there. No one was in the room except me, a camera 20 feet away and a producer.”
In that adversity Bones witnessed not just their ability to deliver, but a connection that transcended show business. Beyond the shutdown, it held reckoning in the wake of George Floyd “Charlie Worsham coming out and doing a monologue about the presence, roots and history of Black music and people in country music? When he started talking, I cried.”
Bones also sees the intimacy creating bridges between Opry shows and his massive 170+ station strong radio show. Always a maverick, he’s mined found gold on its stages.
“When Vince Gill’s daughters were on that COVID show, one of them played a song, and I was like, ‘You gotta come play that on the (Bobby Bones) show. She didn’t have a deal, there was no way it was coming out – but I wanted people to hear it.”
Wanting people to hear it is exactly why he was originally intent on helping cull the weekly show – from all of the Opry performances – before they went live. It’s why, even with a show being launched on NatGeo, he is aggressive about showing up for his hosting duties.
“Drew (Reifenberger) and Scott have a really forward vision, not just for the Opry, but Circle – and they’re thinking about the next generation. They want this music, this content to always be available on demand: to have all the shows up, on the apps, to put the programming right in people’s hands.”
Beyond the music, there is the meaning. For Bones, friends with many of today’s young turks, it’s that larger resonance he’s going for. “I have three goals since I started doing this. To host the CMA Awards, have my own talk show from Nashville and be a member of the Grand Ole Opry.”