Blake Shelton Comments Reveal Deeper Opry Dilemma

grand-ole-opryThe brushup revolving around Blake Shelton’s recent comments about country music’s classic country fans has mostly died down. Blake apologized, at least to Ray Price and other artists, while excluding angry fans, and later clarifying further by saying, “Still sad that Ray thought I was talking about artists. I was only referring to people who don’t like the new direction country is going.”

This story grew many tentacles, but one worth following a little deeper is Blake Shelton and his current membership at The Grand Ole Opry. Opry historian Byron Fay of Fayfare’s Opry Blog, called for Blake Shelton’s outright firing after his inflammatory comments. This may seem like a reactionary, bellicose opinion, but Byron Fay raised an excellent point. By not making even one appearance at the Opry in 2012, Blake Shelton is in unquestionable violation of the Opry’s long-standing membership rules.

According to the bylaws of The Opry, membership not only has to be earned, but maintained. In April of 1963, The Opry implemented a rule stating that members must make at least 26 appearances on the show per year to keep their membership active. Over the years, the amount of required appearances per year has dropped, though the appearance rule is still in effect. In 1964, Opry management dropped the amount of required performances to 20. Then in 2000, they dropped the requirement to 12.

The Opry does its best to be flexible with their appearance rules for superstar members. For example, if you are a high profile member and make an appearance on a Friday or Saturday, they give you 3 performance credits. But members are still expected to do at least a minimum number of shows each year or risk losing membership.

Blake Shelton was invited to become a member of The Opry on September 29th of 2010, and was officially inducted on October 23rd. 6 months later Blake Shelton became a judge for the reality TV singing contest The Voice on NBC, taped in Los Angeles. The TV show has drawn Blake’s ire a number of times by insisting on running multiple seasons of the contest in the same calendar year. At one point, both Season 3 and Season 4 were being taped simultaneously, while Blake had just released two albums. Furthermore, unlike many Opry members, Blake lives in Oklahoma, not Nashville, making his ability to fulfill his Opry obligations even less likely.

It is understandable that for some Opry members who’ve paid their dues to the institution for many years, performance rules could be more flexible. But Blake never created a tenure with the Opry.

The problem with the Opry’s performance rule is the same problem with The Grand Ole Opry’s current practices for inviting new members. The last three inductees to the Grand Ole Opry were Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, and Darius Rucker–all high-profile, big name members who have touring and label requirements outside of the their Opry obligations. Keith Urban, who was inducted into The Opry in April of 2012, just took the position as an American Idol judge.

Meanwhile traditional artists like Elizabeth Cook are the ones making the most Opry appearances annually, including filling many last-minute slots for big-name cancellations. Yet these Nashville-based artists that have fulfilled The Opry’s membership requirements many times over seem nowhere close to induction because of the Opry’s exclusive focus on only inducting members with superstar names recently.

In August of 1952, The Grand Ole Opry fired Hank Williams for missing practices and showing up drunk. We all know The Opry is not going to fire Blake Shelton, but if Opry membership or the institution itself is going to have any meaning moving forward, they must either adhere to their rules, reform them, or reform the membership process. Otherwise, it may be The Opry that is ignored, not just their loosely-defined and ill-followed rules.