Grand Ole Opry to Celebrate 95th Anniversary, Invite Audience Back

When the COVID-19 shutdowns began in mid March, the Grand Ole Opry was one of the only live music institutions that endured. Receiving special permission from the mayor’s office in Nashville to continue the 95-year tradition that had never ceased despite war, unrest, and natural catastrophe, live Opry shows continued under strict protocol and without an audience, with the first non-audience show transpiring on March 14th with the evening’s regular scheduled slate of performers.

Mandy Barnett, Sam Williams, Bill Anderson, Connie Smith, Jeanine Seely, and Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper all took the stage that night. Since then Saturday night Opry performances have been pared down to only a few performers, and an hour-long presentation, with Opry members Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, and Marty Stuart performing acoustic and in-the-round the next Saturday, March 21st.

Marty Stuart played the first official show under the Coronavirus protocols, and he will play the last when he takes the stage Saturday, September 26th with wife and fellow Hall of Famer Connie Smith, along with mandolin maestro and songwriter Sierra Hull for the 29th and final Opry show without an audience.

Then on Saturday, October 2nd, Dierks Bentley, Lorrie Morgan, Vince Gill, and Terri Clark will take the stage in the first Grand Ole Opry presentation with the first live audience in 6 1/2 months. 500 attendees will be allowed to socially distance throughout the 4,372-capacity Grand Ole Opry House as another sign of a continued slow return to normal.

The October 2nd Opry presentation will also officially kick off a celebration of the Grand Ole Opry’s 95th birthday, and October 2nd will also recognize Dierks Bentley’s 15th Anniversary as a Grand Ole Opry member.

“With gratitude to the artists who have visited the Opry since March, staff members and partners who have ensured the Opry went on every Saturday, and a worldwide audience for tuning in over the past six months, we are so excited as we plan to welcome fans back to the Opry House,” says Dan Rogers, Opry vice president and executive producer. “So many loyal fans make plans early to be a part of our birthday weekend every year, and I am especially excited that many of those devoted familiar faces will be in the first in-house audience since late last winter. Of course we will only be truly happy when we can return to capacity audiences and full Opry shows that are known around the world.”

The Grand Ole Opry has partnered with the Nashville Public Health Department and Vanderbilt University Health to develop operating procedures for the shows, which will include socially distanced seating that allows those in the same group to be seated together while being distanced from others, mandatory masks for all guests, enhanced cleaning, and no food/beverage service.

No word as of yet if the return of crowds will eventually mean the elimination of the weekly live feed the Opry has provided for fans throughout the COVID-19 lockdown, but it will definitely endure for this week, and likely until things return to normal, including multi-hours presentations with segments hosted by artists. The Opry’s Saturday night live feeds have been one of the most popular live feeds during the COVID-19 shutdown, ranking near the top of Pollstar’s charts of live streaming events, averaging more than one million viewers each week.

Fans can watch Saturday night’s (9-26) Opry presentation live via the embedded player below, on the new Circle Network via local affiliates of the expanding channel (check availability), on the Circle Network’s Facebook Page, or on The Circle Network’s YouTube page, or listen via WSM. The presentation begins at 7 p.m. Central.

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