How The Grand Ole Opry Became a Surprising Winner of 2020

One of the the common misconceptions that is constantly having to be corrected in country music is the notion that actual country music and its institutions just can’t be relevant to today’s consumers. Society has moved on from dusty old things such as steel guitars, songs about divorce, and Saturday nights at the Grand Ole Opry, they say. This stuff is just no longer relevant.

But the 2020 pandemic has exposed how essential many of these country music institutions are to society. When stuff began to unravel, folks began to gravitate towards certain things for comfort and familiarity—for a compass in an upside down world. Sure, it took a fair bit of upheaval for many to recalibrate back to their country roots. But it also exposed the importance country music holds in society.

This flight towards country music was seen in a number of arenas, including how streams and sales of country music actually increased in the early portions of the pandemic, when most genres of music were taking it on the chin. It was also seen in how the Grand Ole Opry’s Saturday night live stream broadcasts drew large crowds despite no audience in attendance and stripped-down performances. The Opry was there during trying and turbulent times, just like it has been for generations past who huddled around the glow of the console radio or television to partake in Opry presentations.

Receiving an exception by the Nashville mayor to continue their broadcasts under strict protocols, the Grand Ole Opry beamed its signal into households to the tune of becoming the most successful streaming concern in music during the entirety of 2020, and by a wide margin. Coming in comfortably at #1 in Pollstar’s year-end list of streaming events, the hour-long “Opry Live” racked up a whopping 30,327,437 views in 2020. This was twice as many as it’s nearest competition—Verzuz Presents, with 15.4 million views.

Granted, the Grand Ole Opry performed so well in the year-end polls by broadcasting weekly. But many of the individual Opry performances also made it into the polls for the most-watched individual streams over the year. Grand Ole Opry members Vince Gill and Reba McEntire’s July 18th performance came in at #9 with over 2.6 million views, followed by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood’s September 5th performance at #10 with more than 2.2 million views. Overall, “Opry Live” streaming broadcasts were responsible for seven of the Top 20 events all year in music, and eleven of the Top 30.

Looking through the list of the biggest streaming artists in 2020, there were many that also had ties to country. Luke Combs was the 15th most live-streamed artist, Brad Paisley was the 20th, Todd Snider was the 23rd, and Billy Strings came in at #39.

Also appreciate that most of these performances involved acoustic renditions of songs and stripped-down productions with no live audience. The individual live stream from certain artists during the pandemic could be hit or miss. But people still logged on for the Opry, knowing most performances would be top notch, even without a backing band.

The Grand Ole Opry celebrated its 95th Anniversary in 2020, and kept the “circle unbroken” by continuing its Saturday performance schedule through this unprecedented time. In October, they began opening performances back up to limited capacity crowds in socially distanced clusters.

Once life returns to normal, the Opry will begin holding performances again on Fridays, and during the week like they did before, and perhaps not as many people will tune in Saturday night since there will be more live, in-person options.

But what the Grand Ole Opry proved in 2020 is the lasting importance of country music, and it’s institutions. When everything else went haywire, the Opry not only endured, it thrived. And no matter what happens from here, the millions of individuals from over 50 countries that tuned into the Opry in 2020 will remember those performances, many of which that will become synonymous with the pandemic.

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