A Night Of Opry Music

This appeared in the WSM Insider - October 1998

Recently, I went to visit backstage at WSM's Grand Ole Opry. Since I came to WSM Radio, I've found that I go there often on a Saturday night, and I've come to feel a part of the Opry family even though my only official role is that of a fan. This particular Saturday proved to be special. The lineup included a family feature--the inimitable Earl Scruggs with his accomplished sons Randy and Gary--as the high points of an already star-studded lineup, with Marty Stuart, Ricochet and Vince Gill, squeezing in one more Opry show before his summer tour took him away for most of the summer and fall. Early in the evening, we learned that Travis Tritt had decided to drop by too.

An audible buzz of anticipation hummed backstage; hardened showbiz people excitedly lined up for autographs and photos with the Scruggs clan. (As my boss, Kyle Cantrell says, "We're all gherms at heart.") And we weren't disappointed.

How can I describe the myriad of shows that take place on and off the Opry stage each week? Ricochet wowed the audience with their latest single which had a definitely Buck Owens influence. Vince dedicated a Father's Day song to Buck White that he wrote for his own father (now deceased). On the second show, comedian Mike Snider, in his usual fine form, refused to introduce Vince until the crowd promised to stick around and take his picture too and proceeded to interrupt Vince's performance with catcalls--to which Vince responded, "Y'all take Mike's picture and shut him up."

Opry band bassist Billy Linneman continued his weekly search for a woman willing to waltz onstage with him during the music. Marty Stuart introduced Travis Tritt to the audience, which applauded wildly as they tore into "The Whiskey Ain't Workin' Anymore." All in all, it was the kind of week Opry members relish and a happy mood prevailed as staff and musicians laughed and talked and listened to the music with the rapport that marks a truly happy family.

Possibly the night's truest moments came from the Scruggs family, when Earl Scruggs himself, along with sons Randy and Gary, joined Marty Stuart and Travis Tritt onstage. Clearly enjoying themselves, they picked and sang to a fare-thee-well, alternately smiling with pleasure and frowning with concentration.

On the first show, Earl, Marty, Travis and fiddle player Glen Duncan brought an a cappella rendition of the old hymn "Precious Memories" creating a precious memory for those who listened. It's tightly wound harmonies and emotions washed poignantly over us all, bringing to me childhood memories of rural church revivals in the Mississippi summer, the simpleness of my faith back then and the sweetness of the present moment.

Later, on the second show, Marty coerced Earl into playing the "national anthem of banjo pickers everywhere," his classic "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," and Earl and family obligingly tore into it, raining notes down on the audience in a blur of joyous fury. It was a sublime moment--everyone onstage making eye contact with each other, smiling in triumph, riding the groove, matching each other note for note.

No words can adequately capture the camaraderie, the warmth, the feeling of being part of a team effort that extends from stars to band members, to announcers and stage hands and payroll managers, to security guards and concession workers and ushers and, yes, to the listening audience. Love and good humor flow ceaselessly back and forth, all night, every night, at every single Opry performance.

I guess that's why, come Saturday night, I know where I want to be. I want to be with my Opry family so I don't miss the magic.

By Liz Ferrell

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