Over the last few years, a major problem at the Grand Ole Opry has been that many of its newest members are not paying their proper dues to the institution. When you agree to take on one of the solemn positions as a Grand Ole Opry member, you promise to make a specific number of appearances to help support the cause. There’s no shortage of individuals who are willing to play the Opry, but the big names of the day are the ones that help the Opry survive. Recently however, it is many of those big-named artists and the Opry’s newest members who are the most delinquent in their obligations.
Blake Shelton has been one of the most notorious ones.
Lorrie Morgan, who’s getting ready to release a new album called Letting You Go … Slow on February 12th, stopped by Taste of Country Nights late last week to talk about her new album, and her love and devotion to the Grand Ole Opry. Morgan became an Opry member in June of 1984, and insists she always tries to meet her performances obligations, playing as many as two performances a month. Lorrie played the Opry 16 times in 2015, putting her 15th on the list of most appearances by members.
“They send out a letter that says you know, ‘We are kind of demanding that you must be here so many times a year to continue your membership.’ Because it’s just not fair,” Lorrie Morgan explains. “People want to say, ‘Hey I’m a member of the Opry,’ and not want to come back. The Opry takes dedication and it takes love. It takes love.”
However all the love Blake Shelton could give to the Opry in 2015 was three appearances—well short of what is believed to be the required amount of 10. Blake’s history with the Opry is even worse since becoming a member in 2010. The year he was inducted, Blake Shelton made no other appearances. He also made zero appearances in 2012. And in 2013 and 2014, Blake Shelton could only eek out two appearances. By any count, Blake is in arrears to the Opry in a major way.
“He’s gonna get a spanking,” Lorrie Morgan says. “When I see him, it’s over for Blake. Blake, you better look out buddy.”
This has to be considered partly tongue-in-cheek, but Lorrie also seems sincerely disappointed that so many of today’s stars are not taking their Opry duties seriously.
Making the situation even more troubling, Blake Shelton is one of the big stars in the Grand Ole Opry’s upcoming movie, American Saturday Night: Live From The Grand Ole Opry. The other major stars are Darius Rucker and Brad Paisley; two more stars who have trouble paying their dues.
So who does play the Opry these day? Aside from Mike Snider, the top 10 performers are all over 69-years-old, and the average age of the top 10 performers is 74-years-old.
- Connie Smith- Appearances: 88 / Age: 74
- Mike Snider- Appearances: 88 / Age: 54
- Jeannie Seely- Appearances: 84 / Age: 75
- Larry Gatlin- Appearances: 76 / Age: 67
- Bill Anderson- Appearances: 72 / Age: 78
- Riders In The Sky- Appearances: 70 / Age: (Leader Doug Green) 69
- The Whites- Appearances: 63 / Age: (Leader Buck White) 85
- John Conlee- Appearances: 55 / Age: 69
- Bobby Osborne- Appearances: 54 / Age: 84
- Jesse McReynolds- Appearances: 41 / Age: 85
Meanwhile virtually none of the major country stars of today meet their obligations. The only top-tier current country star to play the appointed 10 appearances in 2015 was Carrie Underwood.
But is 10 appearances the true required number of performances to keep your Opry membership active, or is it much higher than that? In her recent interview, Lorrie Morgan alluded that the real number is actually 24, and that the Opry recently brought back the older, higher number from years back since so few were fulfilling their obligations. That would mean members would be required to play an average of twice a month. At the moment, fill-ins and the top 10 performers fulfill the majority of the Opry’s performance slots.
If the number has been raised (and it’s hard to know because of the secretive nature of the Opry), that may explain why the Grand Ole Opry hasn’t inducted a new member in quite a while. The last inductee was Little Big Town in October of 2014. If the new 24 performance number is true, it might also mean the Opry may bring back a different system of counting performances, where weekend performances count as two or three performances against your dues.
Either way, the Opry continues to have an attendance problem, and it’s country music’s biggest names at the heart of it.