Stories

Our Favorite Opry at the Ryman Moments Over the Years

October 31, 2019

The Opry spent 31 formative years at Ryman Auditorium and now returns every November through January for Opry at the Ryman. In celebration of another run at the Mother Church, we’re looking back at our favorite Opry at the Ryman moments.

By Katie Quine ● October 31, 2019

Opry at the Ryman
The Opry returns to its most famous former home for an intimate run of shows November through January. This year don’t miss performances by Kelsea Ballerini, Rascal Flatts, Ricky Skaggs, Home Free, Ashley Monroe, Cam, and more.

Loretta Lynn Inducts Crystal Gayle

When Loretta Lynn had to cancel an Opry performance in 1967 due to illness, her sister Crystal Gayle agreed to fill her spot that evening, making an unconventional Opry debut. On January 21, 2017, Lynn returned the favor by inducting Gayle as an Opry member. Standing on the Ryman stage, where they both made their debuts, Lynn said “It was the greatest moment of my life when they made me a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1962. I know she is just as happy as I was then.”

Hank Williams’ Six Encores

Hank Williams’ 1949 Opry debut is one of country music lore. One of the genre’s earliest stars, Williams had a rapturous following, and when he performed “Lovesick Blues” during his first appearance on the show, which took place at the Ryman, he earned six encores. Before making his Opry debut, Williams knew he had a hit in “Lovesick Blues” — even though songwriter Fred Rose hated it. “You might not like the song, but when it gets so hot that I walk off the stage and throw my hat back on the stage and the hat encores, that’s pretty hot,” Williams said to Rose.

Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood’s Surprise Appearance

The backdoor is always open at the Opry. You never know who might pop in, and those in attendance on November 4, 2016 were in for the surprise of a lifetime when Garth Brooks, who had just been crowned CMA Entertainer of the Year, and Trisha Yearwood made an unannounced appearance on the Friday night show. “We happened to have the weekend off after the CMA [Awards], and we’re still celebrating,” Trisha told the crowd. “Garth said, ‘You want to go down to the Ryman and sing a little?’ And I’m like yes.” The pair closed out their appearance by singing “Friends in Low Places” with the crowd singing back to them.

The Birth of Bluegrass

The December 8, 1945 Opry show at the Ryman gave rise to bluegrass, a genre of music the world had never heard before. Banjoist Earl Scruggs made his debut alongside Bill Monroe & His Blue Grass Boys, which included Lester Flatt on guitar, Chubby Wise on fiddle, and Howard Watts on bass. Each instrument got its own chance to shine through a series of breakdowns, during which a band member performed solo. Since its inception on the Ryman stage, bluegrass remains an Opry tradition.

The Love Junkies’ Opry Debut

The Ryman’s wooden pews give off the sound of an old violin, which means an acoustic performance inside the venue is all the more enchanting — especially when the song is sung by the people who penned it. In 2018, the Love Junkies, a songwriting troupe featuring Lori McKenna, Hillary Lindsey, and Liz Rose, made their Opry debut at the Ryman. The trio, which has written hits like “Girl Crush” and “Cry Pretty,” performed the first song they ever wrote together, “Sober,” which was recorded by Little Big Town, who also was on the evening’s billing. It was quite the departure from the Love Junkies’ typical work session. “We’re so thankful to the Opry for having us and letting us do this,” McKenna said to the crowd. “We usually just sit in our jeans and leggings on a couch and write songs.”

Johnny Cash Meets June Carter

Those in the audience for Johnny Cash’s Opry debut at the Ryman never forgot the occasion, and Cash didn’t either — but for more reasons than one. A debut performance on the Grand Ole Opry is a hallmark event for any country music artist, and that especially held true for Cash, who got to meet fellow performer and future wife June Carter backstage that night. The pair married 10 years later and regularly performed together on the Opry. Cash later chose to film The Johnny Cash Show at the Ryman.

Bob Wills Plays the Drums, a First for the Opry

Western Swing took country fans by storm far beyond the reaches of the Lone Star State, and Bob Wills led the charge. The subgenre wasn’t well-received at first by those in Nashville, and when it came time for Wills to make his Opry debut in 1944, management told him that he’d have to do his performance without drums, which were seen by some as inappropriate. Wills would have none of it and performed with the drums anyway, making the genre more inclusive to new sounds and spurring musical innovation in the years to come.

Josh Turner and Sonya Isaacs Cover “I Saw the Light”

It’s a powerful thing when contemporary artists perform the songs of legends who came before them on the Opry stage, enriching the meaning of the Carter Family standard “Can the Circle Be Unbroken (By and By).” Josh Turner and Sonya Isaacs’ interpretation of the Hank Williams spiritual “I Saw the Light” at a 2018 Opry at the Ryman show was no exception. It was a fitting song choice for the venue as the Ryman was originally constructed as a tabernacle.