For many years, country music fans clamored for the genre’s most revered institution to be put back on television after an extended period of being absent from the medium. 2020 brought that hope to reality through the Grand Ole Opry’s new Circle Network, which now can be found over-the-air in most markets. Then when the pandemic hit, the Saturday night Opry endured like it has done since the very beginning under special restrictions and with no crowd, ultimately becoming the biggest streaming event throughout the quarantine.
Now as the COVID-19 restrictions slowly start to subside, The Grand Ole Opry is celebrating its 95th Anniversary with a big primetime special on Sunday, February 14th on NBC. Called Grand Ole Opry: 95 Years of Country Music, it comes as the Opry is enjoying arguably one of its biggest resurgences in interest in the institution’s history, and a big two-hour special on Valentine’s Day won’t hurt it’s renewed attention.
This is an opportunity for the Grand Ole Opry to celebrate an important milestone, and promote itself to a primetime audience. What you will see won’t exactly be a true glimpse at a regular Opry presentation. For example, there will be two of the Opry’s most cherished moments in one show: An Opry debut, and an invitation/induction of a new member. Maybe that’s a little scripted and excessive, but it is a way to illustrate the meaning and weight behind the institution to a new generation of music fans who may have never interacted with the Opry before.
And hey, any attention the Grand Ole Opry receives is probably a sum positive for country, and it’s understandable they would cater the show to a more primetime audience.
What else might you see if you choose to tune in? Here are some things you can expect, and the differences from a regular Opry show.
It Won’t All Be Live
One of the things that has made the Grand Ole Opry magical for 95 years is that listeners from all around the country would huddle around their radios on Saturday night, and marvel as they heard the performances coming from the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville like they were sitting in the audience. The NBC special though, it was mostly pre-recorded over the last few weeks—not entirely unforgivable since COVID-19 is still putting a crimp in live productions, but something important to note.
Lady A Will Be Inducted The Same Day They’re Invited
Normally, this is not the case. Usually new invitees will wait months before they’re formally inducted. For example, The Queen of Bluegrass Rhonda Vincent was first invited to join in February of 2020. She wasn’t formally inducted until February of 2021. She had to wait an entire year, and was hopscotched for induction in the pre-recorded moment featuring Lady A, because they wanted a big induction for the NBC special. Opry member Darius Rucker is the one that extends Lady A’s invitation, which is a dubious pick to begin with.
Kane Brown Makes his Grand Ole Opry Debut
Now this is pretty crazy, and for a couple of reasons. Some traditionalists will scoff that Kane Brown is playing the Opry at all. But in 2021, pretty much any mainstream star the size of Kane Brown would have played the Opry at least a few times, if not more by this stage in their career. The fact that Kane had his first #1 song in 2017, and has minted five #1 songs total, but has never played the Opry is pretty astounding. And you have to think the only reason Brown hasn’t played the Opry before was because he didn’t want to. The Opry would have been more than open to having him. Nonetheless, it will be Kane we see symbolically step into the hallowed circle to make his Grand Ole Opry debut on the 95th Anniversary special. Let’s hope he sings something traditional, which Kane can do well when he wants to.
You Will Actually See Blake Shelton
Blake Shelton is not only co-hosting the event with Brad Paisley, he’s also performing, which is something Grand Ole Opry faithful are not exactly used to. Inducted as a member in 2010, Shelton has been one of the biggest deadbeat members of the last decade, meaning he plays the Opry barely at all, even though membership is supposed to come with at least a few annual appearances. Shelton did appear once in 2020 with fiance Gwen Stefani via a livestream from their home.
You Won’t See Many of the Real Opry Regulars
Though mostly who you will see are the bigger names from country music of past and present, many of the performers that usually make up Grand Ole Opry lineup like Jeannie Seely, Connie Smith, Charles Esten, Carly Pearce, and Riders in the Sky won’t be there. Apparently, these important members are good enough for primetime. Nonetheless, the Grand Ole Opry: 95 Years of Country Music special will have a quality mix of both mainstream and independent, young and old, familiar and new performers making appearances.
WHO YOU WILL SEE:
Dierks Bentley and Marty Stuart will perform Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s version of the great Townes Van Zandt song “Pancho & Lefty.”
Lady A will sing a version of “Forever and Ever, Amen,” originally performed by Randy Travis.
Kelsea Ballerini will sing Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing At All,” also recorded by Opry regular Alison Krauss.
Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Darius Rucker, Little Big Town, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Carrie Underwood will all perform as well, as will co-hosts Blake Shelton and Brad Paisley.