Playing the Grand Ole Opry reminds country newcomer Charlie Worsham of his hometown where people have listened to the radio show for generations.
For Sugarland’s Kristian Bush, playing the Opry means the chance to learn something new.
And members of Exile, a band that will celebrate 52 years as a group this year, said they are still “humbled and honored” to stand on the Opry’s famous circle.
The Grand Ole Opry will celebrate its 90th anniversary in October, but this weekend all eyes are on the future as Carrie Underwood plays four Grand Ole Opry shows. Bush, Ricky Skaggs and Point of Grace will join Underwood on Friday night’s two shows, and Exile, Skaggs and Worsham are on the bill with Underwood for Saturday night’s performances.
Tickets are still available, but Pete Fisher, the Grand Ole Opry’s vice president and general manager, said every show would sell out –- they usually do when Underwood books an appearance. And with growing frequency, the Opry’s shows are full without the help of a superstar act.
“That’s really a testament to the strength of the Opry as a brand and the incredible interest the rest of the country has in our city,” Fisher said, crediting the popularity of ABC’s “Nashville” for the uptick in interest in both Music City and the Grand Ole Opry. “We started seeing this trend begin almost immediately after the show went on the air.”
When booking talent for each Opry telecast, Opry executives try to represent the past, present and future of country music. This weekend is no different. Bush is both a new solo artist and a veteran in the country genre, having multi-platinum selling success with Sugarland and recently releasing solo album “Southern Gravity.”
“I think (the Opry) is ground zero for country music,” Bush said. “As a new solo artist, I’ve been so grateful for the welcome I’ve gotten on that stage. Country fans come from all over the world to see the Opry, and it feels more popular now than it’s ever been.”
Underwood is among country music’s top-selling artists. Worsham generated critical acclaim with his first album, “Rubberband,” in 2013, and after a successful run in pop music, Exile started charting country hits in the early 1980s.
“To play the Opry is to connect with the touchstone of country music -- where it's been, where it is, and where it's going,” Worsham said. “An Opry performance means that I've 'made it' to the people I love the most.”
In addition to its regular programming that includes performances on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the Opry planned additional activities this year in commemoration of its 90th anniversary. Brad Paisley and Old Crow Medicine Show kicked off the nine-month 90th anniversary celebration in March. Since then, the Opry launched its Cause for Applause charitable initiative. The Opry Circle Throwdown is a new program where artists take a replica of the Opry’s famed circle with them on tour. And the Opry started a new artist discovery series focused on up-and-coming country singers called Opry 9.0 that Fisher hopes will reassert the Opry’s relevance in launching country music careers.
“People have to know … that the Opry matters. And this project helps remind fans, the industry and the artists of today that the Opry is very much alive and well and throughout its history has been involved in building careers,” Fisher said.
The highlight of the Opry’s nine-month celebration will come the first weekend in October with its official birthday party weekend. Opry Country Classics is set for 7 p.m. Oct. 1, and free 90th birthday parties on the Opry Plaza will kick off four Opry shows Oct. 2-3. There will be two Opry performances each day, and the Oak Ridge Boys will perform a 90th birthday concert at 1 p.m. Oct. 3.
Fisher predicted about 10,000 fans would show up in the Opry Plaza to celebrate the Opry’s milestone birthday.
Reach Cindy Watts at 615-664-2227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Celebration of love
Kristian Bush wants his new single “Light Me Up” to be the “second sentence in a very long story” that is his career.
Bush, half of country duo Sugarland, recently released his debut solo album, “Southern Gravity.” The album’s first single, “Trailer Hitch,” explored finding happiness through generosity. “Light Me Up” tells listeners that not only is he happy, “but love is definitely the ribbon you want to hold on to and let it lead you into the next part of the conversation.
“You’re hearing me sing an anthem, and that’s (one) thing that Sugarland is known for,” Bush said.
Another of Sugarland’s calling cards is catchy melodies is. Bush believes that fans will also find that ear-worm factor in “Light Me Up,” but with the emotional weight of a love song.
“I have not given up on love,” Bush said. “I do feel like the best way to go and find that is to put it into the world first, sew those seeds that you hope to reap. And I think celebrating what it feels like to me to be loved, and how much a woman can change your entire life, is worth singing. It’s worth writing, it’s worth recording, it’s worth going out and doing everything you can to get it played on the radio because somewhere there’s somebody and that’s their song. ‘Light Me Up’ belongs to somebody, I know it does. It’s not just mine.”