For nearly 90 years, there have been countless seconds on air that were so special, so memorable, we refer to them as truly great Opry moments. Most of them were one-time-only experiences that have never been re-created.
Artists and Staff Share Memorable Opry Moments
The Opry recently partnered with Beats Music as a curator on the platform, so we're curating playlists just for you every week. Beats Music is known for the humans behind the app, creating the music perfect for your Right Now. Here, we asked some folks on stage and some behind the scenes to share some of their most memorable Opry moments. Re-live them with us by watching video or listening to the songs that made them, and hearing the stories from the stage.
These are listed in no particular order, though there have been many more great Opry moments than those listed here that we also love.
1. “I Will Always Love You”
On May 19, 2007, Porter Wagoner celebrated his 50th anniversary as an Opry member. Marty Stuart kicked off the last song by saying, “Miss Dolly, there's no way in the world that we could close this show without this song." Dolly Parton replied, “I think this is something we'd all like to say to Porter, but if it hadn't been for Porter, I wouldn't have written this song." Porter sat on a stool next to Dolly, Marty, Patty Loveless, and the Opry band while Marty's mandolin played, and the audience watched one of the most memorable moments in Opry history with tears in their eyes. Porter passed away later that year.
"Dolly Parton singing this timeless song to the person for whom she wrote it, her friend and business partner Porter Wagoner on his 50th Opry anniversary, is one of my all-time favorite Opry moments. I love this moment because the emotion in it was so real. The admiration in Porter's eyes for his long-time friend was sincere, and Dolly wiped tears from his cheeks as she sang the lyric “goodbye, please, don't you cry." Looking back and knowing it was the last time the two would appear on a stage together makes the moment even more bittersweet.”
- April Hyde, Advertising & Promotions Manager at the Grand Ole Opry
"Knowing Porter and Dolly’s well-documented deep yet rocky history then seeing Dolly return for Porter’s 50th Opry anniversary and sing such an intimate rendition of 'I Will Always Love You’ directly to him, I have never felt such emotion exude from the Opry stage. No one uttered a sound from the wings, because everyone knew what a special moment they were witnessing. ”
- Gina Keltner, Talent Manager at the Grand Ole Opry
2. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”
On September 28, 2010 the Grand Ole Opry returned to the newly-restored Opry House after the devastating Nashville flood of May 2010. The audience sat in a dark auditorium to watch Brad Paisley and Jimmy Dickens walking through the brand new backstage area on their way to the famous 6-foot circle of wood, recently restored and ceremoniously returned to its home at center stage. When they got there, with the curtain still down, Brad said, “Will the circle be unbroken," and Jimmy replied, “The circle can't be broken, Brad."
The curtain rose, and as the two of them strummed their guitars and began singing, “I was standing, by my window on a cold and cloudy day," the lights grew to reveal country music's finest walking out to join them on stage, all singing “Will the circle be unbroken, by and by Lord, by and by.”
“Everyone was so full of emotion when the Opry House reopened after the flood in 2010. It was a long, hard five months of rebuilding and keeping everything going without missing even one show. I know for me, when that curtain went up and Brad and Jimmy were standing there with that spotlight on them, all of the feelings I hadn't had time to realize came rushing up to the surface. We were home again. It is something I will never forget.”
— Jessica White, Graphic Designer at the Grand Ole Opry
3. “Green, Green Grass Of Home”
“I’ll never forget watching from the wings while Porter Wagoner sang ‘Green, Green Grass of Home.’ I knew that I was witnessing something very special that night. I recall he was dressed in a western suit the color of a Spanish onion, sparkling in the spotlight, and his long, lean figure reflected on the hardwood stage from the bright lights above. I watched his shadow while he sang. He moved with such emotion, such grace and poise. Little did I know that just a few months later he would be gone. It's a powerful song, that one, a metaphor about the here and hereafter, and I'm mighty thankful to have been there in the flesh to witness The Wagonmaster himself singing it so true.”
- Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show
4. “I Told You So”
On March 15, 2008, Carrie Underwood took the stage on one of many occasions to perform a few songs for the Opry audience, one of them being “I Told You So," first made popular by Opry member Randy Travis. When she finished the song, the audience just went nuts. Carrie turned around and Randy Travis was on stage with her, about to invite her to become an Opry member. A few months later on May 10, Garth Brooks and Opry management officially inducted her as a member. On her induction night, Garth said, “You will be reigned with awards from the CMA, the ACM's, GRAMMY's, all that stuff. Nothing will last as long or be more important than this award right here tonight. Congratulations." Opry member invitations and inductions are always great Opry Moments for us. This is just one of the many we cherish.
"Of all the great Opry moments on the Opry stage, my personal favorite is when we invite an artist into Opry membership. Of course staging a surprise appearance by Randy Travis was no easy feat, especially when the person you're trying to surprise, Carrie Underwood, claims to be surprise-proof. Her shocked reaction followed by tears were more than words could describe.”
- Pete Fisher, Grand Ole Opry Vice President and General Manager
5. “When I Call Your Name”
"Out of all the memorable performances I’ve been fortunate to witness on the Grand Ole Opry, one that truly stands out to me took place on August 10, 1991. Vince Gill had been riding high on the charts for about a year and was becoming an official Opry member. Beloved Opry patriarch Roy Acuff had become a big fan of Vince and his music. The minute Roy introduced Vince to the crowd that night he began requesting Vince sing his favorite Vince tune, 'When I Call Your Name.’ 'To me, it’s your biggest,’ Roy said. Then as the opening piano instrumental played and Vince began to sing, Roy huddled close to Vince on stage and hung on every word of the tune.
Vince recalled the moment in the book Backstage At The Grand Ole Opry, saying, 'One of my most precious possessions is a photograph of me singing with Mr. Roy looking on. He couldn’t see very well, so he was right there beside me, and he had tears in his eyes. That meant the world to me—that whatever music I was making spoke to him.’ The performance meant a lot not just to Vince, but to everyone in the Opry House that night. For there, center stage, was the man who’d become known as the King of Country Music and had carried the Opry banner for more than 50 years. Beside him was a beloved young entertainer on his way to superstar status who seemed to be saying, 'I get it. I’ll take care of this place.’ You could sense the respect each man had for the other and the mutual love they had for the Grand Ole Opry. There was definitely a sense of a 'passing of the torch’ that night and a calm reassurance that the Opry was going to be well looked after for many years to come.
It was a great moment I recall every time I hear 'When I Call Your Name’ and each time Vince takes the Opry stage today.”
— Steve Buchanan, President, Opry Entertainment
6. Hank Williams’ Six-encore Set
“The most memorable Opry performance for me was Hank Williams’ first night on the Opry. He received six encores.”
— Little Jimmy Dickens
7. “Shakin’ All Over”
On January 15, 2011 Rockabilly Queen Wanda Jackson played the Opry for the first time in nearly 57 years. The first time she played, in 1954, she vowed to never return after Ernest Tubb made her wear an old leather jacket to cover the dress she and her mother had made just for her Opry debut - one of her signature fringed dresses that showed off Wanda's sexy shimmy-shaking shoulders. Her backing band for her triumphant return was the 11-piece Third Man Band led by rock icon and Nashville transplant, Jack White. Together they rocked Opry at the Ryman with three songs “Right or Wrong," “Blue Yodel Number 6," and “Shakin’ All Over."
"I have loved Rockabilly Queen Wanda Jackson since the first time I heard her amazing voice tearing out of my speakers like a velved buzz saw - a perfect combination of rock 'n’ roll nasty and country music nice. I have seen her play many times - usually in small clubs, and not always with a stellar backing band. I knew that Wanda's first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry had been in 1954, and that she had vowed never to return. So I didn't think I would ever get a chance to see her on the Opry. But in 2011, Wanda Jackson gave it another shot and played the Opry for the first time in nearly 57 years. It was a true thrill to see one of my all-time favorite artists make a triumphant return to the Opry at the Ryman, with an incredible band. And to see that she is still shaking her fringe!”
— Brenda Colladay, Museum Curator at the Grand Ole Opry
8. “Wabash Cannonball”
"It’s a recent performance, but I believe I’ll always remember the opening performance of the show on March 15, 2014— the 40th Anniversary of opening night at the Grand Ole Opry House. When the venue had opened 40 years earlier, Opry patriarch Roy Acuff predicted that at its new home, the Opry 'would just get bigger and bigger and bigger.’ The 2014 show opened with video footage of Acuff singing 'Wabash Cannonball,’ first from 1940 then 1974. Finally the big red curtain went up on a stage full of artists singing Acuff’s signature song live. The Opry’s newest member group, Old Crow Medicine Show, was taking lead, and standing center stage was the Opry’s most tenured member, the great Jimmy Dickens. Others on stage ran the gamut of new stars, superstars, and legends. There was the group Green River Ordinance making its debut alongside the likes of Josh Turner, Miranda Lambert, and Blake Shelton. Also on stage were some of the artists who’d been on hand the night the Opry opened in its then-new home, among them: Bill Anderson, Jeannie Seely, and Connie Smith. I remember watching from the audience thinking there was so much talent and so much diversity on that stage and that only something as strong as the Grand Ole Opry could have lured all those artists together for such a fun performance. I also couldn’t help but think, 'I bet Roy Acuff would have really, really liked that.'
- Dan Rogers, Director of Marketing and Communication at the Grand Ole Opry
9. “Bartender’s Blues / This Is Country Music”
"Hearts were heavy on April 26 as country music lost a legend. The show that night was like nothing I've ever seen. I wasn't here during the flood, so seeing everyone band together in honor of George was so beautiful. It was my first real front-row seat to the family that really is the Opry and country music as a whole. The family mourned, and they mourned together. At the end of the show, Brad Paisley walked out, with just a guitar and a heavy heart, and played his feelings. Music healed that night. Music helped him process, helped the audience and him connect together, remembering one of his great friends. Brad sat on a stool in the circle that night and opened up his heart straight through the chords on his guitar, playing George's songs. They say music speaks when words fail, and I witnessed that firsthand. Brad didn't say anything at all. He just played, and that was perfect. Watching something like that leaves a mark on you, as if to say that you too have permission to feel through music, to feel through the arts. Brad ended the almost ten-minute medley with some of 'This is Country Music,’ and I was sure I witnessed the best of it right there on the Opry stage."
— Laura Pearse, Digital Development Manager at the Grand Ole Opry
10. “Friends In Low Places”
"Johnny Russell is one of my all-time favorite Opry members. I was blessed to know him personally and we got to spend a lot of time together. So I would say one of my best memories of the Opry would be from the 75th Birthday Celebration when Johnny, Garth Brooks, Bill Anderson and Porter Wagoner sang 'Friends In Low Places’ together. It was awesome!"
— Wayne Chandler, Director of Sales, Grand Ole Opry Entertainment Group
11. “Talk Back Trembling Lips”
"I remember when I was little, I used to spend weekends with my grandma, and instead of watching TV, we would sit around the kitchen table with the radio in the center and listen to the Opry. One of my Granny's favorites was Ernie Ashworth. She got so excited one night when he was on the show and he sang 'Talk Back Trembling Lips.’ From that moment, I started associating classic country music with my Granny. During my first year working at the Opry, I was able to see a show with Ernie Ashworth in his 'Lips Suit’ and hear him sing 'Talk Back Trembling Lips.’ Then in 2009, the year Ernie died, I re-recorded the song myself. Because of my Granny, this will probably be one of my all-time favorite songs. And I am so happy I got to see him perform at the Opry!"
— Christina Pryor, Ticketing and Package Specialist at the Grand Ole Opry
12. “Honky Tonk Girl”
"The Opry performance I most vividly recall is seeing Loretta Lynn perform 'Honky Tonk Girl’ on stage at the Ryman. It was like taking a step back in history and seeing the Opry as it was all those years ago. Standing there watching, I was so moved and felt like I had been given a gift.”
— Martina McBride
13. “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”
"The performance of 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken’ during the Opry's 75th anniversary celebration is one that will be hard to top. Even though I wasn't in the live audience, I feel I've lived the historic moment many times over through video, photos, and stories. The song began with a stage full of Opry members and guests led by Dolly Parton and Vince Gill. With every verse, the star-power increased - out came Martina McBride, then George Jones and Alan Jackson; Trisha Yearwood and Pam Tillis; Charley Pride and Connie Smith; Patty Loveless and Travis Tritt; Steve Wariner and Loretta Lynn; Chely Wright and Brad Paisley; Ricky Skaggs and Marty Stuart; and finally Garth Brooks rounded it out - all while photos of members of the previous 75 years were being shown on the Opry barn. It's moments like this that remind us just how special the Grand Ole Opry is and how lucky we are to be part of the family."
— Katrina Maddox, Digital Marketing Manager, Grand Ole Opry
14. “Workin’ Man Blues”
"I always love it when artists come together for a collaborative performance on the Opry stage, and none of the collaborations I’ve seen can touch the all-star guitar jam led by Brad Paisley, Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, Keith Urban, and Steve Wariner on Sept. 28, 2010, the night the Opry came home to the Opry House after that spring’s flood. There was a buzz at the Opry that night as everyone—artists, fans, and us Opry staff members— celebrated our return to the venue that’d been inundated with more than four feet of water just five months earlier. Spirits were high throughout the night, but they absolutely soared when those killer instrumentalists took the stage, each demonstrating to thunderous applause his masterful musicianship. I thought at the time that they couldn’t have made a better song selection than “Workin’ Man Blues,” as the Merle Haggard classic paid homage to the men and women who’d worked in shifts around the clock since May to transform the Opry House we love from a venue ravaged by a flood to an absolutely gorgeous country music showplace."
— Barb Schaetz, VP, Opry Entertainment Marketing
15. “I Never Once Stopped Loving You”
Easily the Opry’s most loyal fan of all time, Paul Eckhart has not missed a single weekend of Opry shows in 42 years (that’s since June 1972 if you’re keeping score).
"Of all the performers I’ve seen take the stage through the years, the one artist who has made for the most memorable moments in my book is Connie Smith. She’s been my all-time favorite since I first heard her in 1964, and I’ve told her that many times. She is in my opinion the epitome of female country singers. “Once A Day” is of course her biggest hit ever, and nothing against her faster music, but I love Connie’s ballads. Songs like “You’ve Got Me Right Where You Want Me,” “Deepening Snow,” and “I Never Once Stopped Loving You.” Those are the songs that make for moments that have kept me coming back to the Opry every week for four decades.”
— Paul Eckhart, Grand Ole Opry Fan
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