Opry’s 2024 NextStage Class Features Surging Independent Talent

Last week, the Grand Ole Opry announced the 2024 class for its NextStage program. Started in 2019, the program looks to highlight rising talent by featuring them more regularly on the Opry stage, and across the Grand Ole Opry’s various programs and properties.

The nine artists and bands named to the 2024 class includes 49 Winchester, Anne Wilson, Charles Wesley Godwin, Chase Matthew, Ella Langley, Flatland Cavalry, Josh Ross, Madeline Edwards and Wyatt Flores.

What’s unique about the 2024 class is just how much of this talent comes from outside of the mainstream country/Music Row fold. NextStage has always tried to highlight deserving artists, but you could always draw a direct line between the artists picked and country’s major labels.

It’s true that Charles Wesley Godwin is officially signed to Big Loud Records, but he did so after making his name as an insurgent Appalachian songwriter from West Virginia. Wyatt Flores from Oklahoma is singed to Island Records, but that’s not exactly a Music Row record label, neither is Interscope who picked up Flatland Cavalry who who made their name in Texas/Red Dirt. Virginia’s 49 Winchester is singed with the independent label New West.

The 2024 Opry NextStage class really symbolizes just how much these institutions are opening up to talent outside the Music Row fold, and how they must do so if they want to continue to stay relevant to the public that is listening to more independent country than ever before.

We’re also seeing this same trend on mainstream festival lineups. Promoters are reaching into the independent country/non radio-supported talent pool to fill out undercards and even to pick headliners. These performers are often drawing just as good or better than their major label counterparts these days.

The two mentors named for the 2024 NextStage class were CMA Entertainer of the Year Lainey Wilson, and songwriting veteran Jamey Johnson who officially became an Opry member in 2022. Jamey had some interesting remarks when speaking to the new class when he was asked what it means to be the big brother to the new crop of artists playing on the Opry stage.

“Well it’s our Opry now. It was their Opry back then. They did with it what they wanted to do with it. It’s our turn. And that’s all I want to remind any young artist of. It’s your time. You go out and make it yours,” Johnson said.

Jamey’s comments seem to be two-fold. They mention how it’s the future talent that performs on the Grand Ole Opry that will carry the institution forward. But he also seems to allude to how in the past, the Opry wasn’t particularly open to new or outside talent. Under the leadership of Dan Rogers, we’ve seen the Opry open up like never before, with debuts all over the place, and new inductees that have deserved the distinction for years, like Jamey Johnson.

T. Graham Brown was finally asked to become an Opry member in February after over 300 performances. So even though the Grand Ole Opry is always looking for new talent, respecting the older talent also seems to be part of the “new” Opry that as Johnson says, is “ours” and not “theirs.”

“I have this feeling of ownership with it and I try to translate that to the artists too,” Johnson continued. “You don’t thank them for having them at your Opry. You thank them for coming. You thank them for supporting. And just like all of y’all, you’re here because you love it. It means it’s ours.”

And “Our” Opry is finally allowing artists outside of the Music Row/major label fold into the hallowed circle.

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