Bobby Karl Works The Room
To put it in Biblical terms, a visit to the Opry always “restoreth my soul.”
Saturday’s Grand Ole Opry show (May 14) was both musically and spiritually uplifting, plus historically significant. Fittingly, the audience was packed to the rafters.
“It’s Jamey Johnson’s induction night,” Charlie Worsham told the cheering crowd. “It’s Ricky Skaggs’ 40th anniversary. I won my first ACM Award here last night [as Acoustic Guitar Player of the Year].” Worsham also pointed out that Opry bandleader/drummer Eddie Bayers was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame this month. So it was, indeed, an epic night at the hallowed institution.
Bill Anderson did the honors inducting Jamey. He related the story of inviting Jamey to join the cast in March. By then, Jamey had been a guest on the show dozens of times. Bill told him he would never be back as a guest. “I’ve been thrown out of a lot of places,” Jamey responded.
“We’re not kicking you out,” said Bill on Saturday night. “We’re welcoming you in.” He gave Jamey the Opry Membership statuette, a model of the Opry microphone stand. Jamey is member #228 in the show’s 97-year history.
“I don’t have to tell y’all how much this means to me,” responded Jamey. “I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a kid. And I’m not a kid anymore, as you can tell by the gray in my beard. I prayed for it every day.”
Bill said, “This is one more example of our prayers getting answered.” Backstage, he added, “This is as important for the Opry as it is for Jamey.”
Jamey wore a new, custom jacket by Manuel for his big night. Congratulatory, welcoming gifts arrived from the Opry’s Dan Rogers, Carrie Underwood and Rhonda Vincent.
Meanwhile backstage, Ricky Skaggs was cutting into a massive sheet carrot cake slathered with vanilla icing (including an icing guitar) while Opry boss Dan Rogers and Opry talent manager Gina Keltner presented him with a beautiful framed poster commemorating his 40th anniversary with the show.
“I’m so proud to be associated with an organization that cares so much about music history — country music, bluegrass music, gospel,” Ricky said. During a pause in his onstage anniversary celebration, he and the audience watched video congratulations from Marty Stuart, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood and Keith Urban.
The show began with The Opry Square Dancers, followed by Larry Gatlin, Deana Carter, Gary Mule Deer, Worsham and Anderson. Jamey’s set included “Between Jennings and Jones,” “In Color” and, with his cowriter Bill Anderson, “Give It Away.”
Ricky’s performance included “Heartbroke” and “I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could.” Following the video tributes, Jamey joined him at center stage. With just their own mandolin and guitar accompaniment, the two honorees performed a stunning, brother-duet rendition of “Near the Cross,” which is the first song that Jamey ever learned to play on guitar. It earned the pair of celebrants a wildly enthusiastic standing ovation.
The halls and dressing rooms backstage were full of mingling friends — Kid Rock, Mark Wills, John Daly, Beverly Keel, Blake Harris, proud papa #1 Howard Johnson, proud papa #2 Gary Worsham, Jessie Schmidt, George Gruhn, Bret Wolcott, Melonie Cannon (papa Buddy cowrote “Give It Away” with Bill & Jamey), Regina Stuve, Bobby Cudd, Billy Paul, and The Whites. (Papa Buck White, 91, is now living with Ricky and Sharon White, reported Cheryl White).
George Jones Museum queen Nancy Jones arrived in a wheelchair, looking thin but still exhibiting her indomitable personality. I am told she has been so gravely ill with COVID that she died in the hospital twice and was revived. She said her recovery has taken seven months and demonstrated to Jamey that she can now walk again.
“I have to give my testimony,” she told him. “God spoke to me while I was in the hospital.”
“Did He sound like George Jones?” quipped Jamey.
“No, His voice wasn’t that deep,” Nancy replied.
Speaking of COVID, Ricky reported that his bout with the disease had led to the loss of his hair, which has now inexplicably grown back curly.
ACM honoree Charlie Worsham was playing a guitar that Vince Gill had given him. The Country Music Hall of Famer had played it when he taped Crossroads with Sting. Charlie was so moved by the generosity that he cried when Vince gave it to him.
Then there was the Deana Carter connection. It turns out that she was also on the show on March 19 when Jamey was invited to become an Opry member. We briefly mused about whether or not she should leap barefoot into honoree Ricky’s arms the way she so memorably did when he presented her with a CMA Award in 1997. I urged her not to repeat the exuberant stunt, for fear of injury to them both, now 25 years older.
Bill Anderson reported that he has recorded a new duet with Dolly Parton and that they are making a music video for it next week. He was recently taped for an upcoming PBS documentary about Minnie Pearl.
As for his feelings about his new fellow Opry cast member: “I knew he was one of us,” said Bill. “I knew he had a country heart and a country soul.”
Jamey Johnson’s induction into the Opry cast continues a recent string of artistically valuable additions to the venerable show’s lineup. These include Luke Combs (7/16/19), Gene Watson (2/7/20), Rhonda Vincent (2/6/21), Lady A (2/14/21), Carly Pearce (8/3/21), The Isaacs (9/14/21), Mandy Barnett (11/2/21) and Lauren Alaina (2/12/22).
I can’t close without saying how much I value the friendship and hospitality I always feel from Gina and “Opry Dan.” People like them really do restore your spirits.