Pete Fisher Leaving The Grand Ole Opry Could Be Huge
On Monday morning (1-9) the big news in the country music community was that Pete Fisher, the long-time Vice President and General Manager of the Grand Ole Opry, had accepted the job as CEO of the Academy of Country Music in Los Angeles. After 32 years in Nashville, Pete Fisher will be moving to California to helm country music’s second-biggest awards show apparatus and country music institution. Long-time ACM CEO Bob Romeo left the position in May of 2016, leaving the post vacant ever since. Pete Fisher will only be the 2nd CEO in the ACM’s 53-year history.
“As I enter my 30th year in the Country music industry, I am extremely grateful for all of the opportunities I have been given to serve those who both create Country music and those who help connect that great music with fans all over the world,” Fisher says. “I want to thank the Officers and Board for giving me this exciting opportunity to lead the ACADEMY into a new era. I look forward to collaborating with them and our passionate and talented staff, charting an exciting course into the future.”
But the fact that Pete Fisher is the new skipper of the Academy of Country Music is burying the lead. The real story here is that Pete Fisher is out at the Grand Ole Opry where he’s been presiding over everything Opry related for the last 17 years, making him one of the most powerful, influential, and at times, vilified men in all of country music. As the most storied institution in country, the direction of the Grand Ole Opry is always a hot topic, especially among traditional country fans. And many were unhappy with how the Opry functioned under the Pete Fisher regime.
During the Pete Fisher tenure, the Grand Ole Opry invited more modern pop country entertainers into its ranks of members that ever before—acts such as Blake Shelton, Darius Rucker, Rascall Flatts, and Little Big Town. Also during this time, many of these big names shirked their performance obligations to the Opry like never before with no real consequences. By accepting membership, artists agree to play the Opry stage at least 10 times a year. Out of the new batch of current country stars, Carrie Underwood is the only one who regularly meets her performance obligations.
Another big marker of the Pete Fischer regime was how apparent ageism took hold at the Opry beginning with his tenure in 1999. On September 29th, 2002, in an article that appeared on the front page of The Tennessean, long-time Opry members Charlie Louvin, Del Reeves and Stonewall Jackson blasted Fisher for cutting back on their performances after years of loyalty to the institution. Stonewall Jackson notoriously said Pete Fisher told him he “would work as hard as possible until no gray hair was in the audience or on the stage.” Eventually Stonewall Jackson sued the Opry for age discrimination. The case was settled privately.
Hank Williams III also had a very public run in with Pete Fisher. The 3rd generation performer was hoping the Grand Ole Opry could show their respect to his grandfather by symbolically reinstating him. Hank Williams was fired from the Opry in 1952 for drunkenness and missing rehearsals. The Opry promised to let Hank Williams back if he cleaned up his act, but Hank Williams died before he was reinstated. Hank3’s Reinstate Hank campaign continues to work towards the goal of having the Opry show their final respects to Hank Williams, but Hank3 says Pete Fisher swore to him, “We will never reinstate a dead guy.”
Performers have also complained through the Pete Fisher era about how they were not allowed to play with their own bands, and photographs (and later video) of performances were heavily restricted. Performers would get their first ever opportunity to play the Opry stage, but in many cases were not be able to share the experience through photographs or video. The Opry has released more videos of performances in recent years.
As the Pete Fisher era continued, the makeup of the Grand Ole Opry changed. Many of the most famous country stars of the day began to ignore the Grand Ole Opry, and the institution has relied more and more on older stars to fill performance slots. However that loyalty by older performers was not reciprocated in new member invitations … until very recently.
Traditional country fans were shocked when Crystal Gayle, the sister of Loretta Lynn and singer of “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” was asked to become a Grand Ole Opry member by Carrie Underwood in November, 2016. And then on December 30th, bluegrass duo Dailey & Vincent was shocked by a similar invitation.
After years of trying to coax today’s country stars to play the Opry by giving them the institution’s highest distinction, the Opry clearly had a shift in attitude about how to approach membership. And now that Pete Fisher has announced he is leaving, it could perhaps mean more shifting of policies.
Pete Fisher’s reign at the Grand Ole Opry wasn’t all negative though. Due to the tight ship he ran and some of the rules he implemented, Opry attendance increased dramatically from before his tenure. Fisher also helped shepherd the Grand Ole Opry through the devastating flooding in Nashville in 2010, and the Opry house’s $20 million restoration. Pete Fisher was business first, and that allowed the Opry to prosper financially under his leadership.
Of course the biggest question for Grand Ole Opry fans is who will be Pete Fisher’s replacement, and what direction will the new leadership take the institution? It seems like the sea change started before Pete Fisher’s resignation, and it will be interesting to see if it will continue under new leadership. The top spot at the Opry is an easy job to criticize from afar, but counts on someone who can respect the institution’s history, while also luring new artists and fans to the stage and audience to keep the Opry fresh and relevant.
As mainstream country and Nashville continues to see a resurgence in artists of a more traditional leaning and deeper substance to their music, as well as the rise in commercial viability in Americana, it will be interesting to see if the Opry can be fleet of foot enough to adapt to these changes, respect the elders of the genre, while reasserting its place in country music as an institution that doesn’t just honor the stars, but also launches new ones.
January 9, 2017 @ 2:05 pm
The Ryman group, which owns the opry, just did a big deal with Blake, if ones into tea leaf readings.
January 9, 2017 @ 4:25 pm
I’m not a fan of Blake but what does that have to do with anything? So he made a deal, this is about country music as a whole not one dipshit
January 9, 2017 @ 4:28 pm
Ryman is interested in business/money first, members playing the required number of shows second (or last). They’re likely to hire someone who agrees with that philosophy.
January 9, 2017 @ 7:44 pm
If anyone should be somewhere in a higher up capacity is, Marty Stuart! He knows what it’s all about!
January 11, 2017 @ 1:10 pm
Marty, or maybe Steve Wariner.
January 9, 2017 @ 2:09 pm
I nominate Buddy Miller.
January 9, 2017 @ 2:37 pm
I nominate Eddie Stubbs.
January 15, 2017 @ 3:01 pm
I used to listen to Eddie Stubbs on WSM but I got tired of him basically playing the same three dozen artists virtually every night (some of them only moderately successful on the charts in their heyday btw) and ignoring scores of other country legends who I never heard for weeks on end. And I don’t think he ever played one of my requests.
January 9, 2017 @ 2:41 pm
I would like to see Vince Gill take over. He’s been in the industry a long time musicly and would know a thing or two.
January 9, 2017 @ 3:23 pm
Vince would be a good one, one would think. I spoke to him a few weeks ago, and funny enough he sticks up for the younger folks being inducted, saying that they play as often as they’re really able to. The performers HE has an issue with are his generation of late 80s – 90s stars who were inducted, then quit showing up. Let’s face it, the closest Alan Jackson has come to an Opry stage in a while was when he inspected his new bar on Broadway.
January 9, 2017 @ 4:25 pm
Interesting point, and probably a fair one. The top names should play some shows, but they’re on the road a lot, have young kids, and have other obligations, and deserve some time off. It’s great that Carrie does it though. But Reba, Garth, that generation don’t play many shows either.
January 13, 2017 @ 3:39 pm
That’s why they should turn down joining the opry if they are not willing to do 10 apperances a year and garth and reba luke bryan blake should all be fired
January 11, 2017 @ 10:05 pm
Vince Gill is a recording/performing artist who still tours around the world. And he’s been that for all of his adult life.
Why would you think he’d be interested in giving that up to become a business/management executive at this stage of his life?
January 9, 2017 @ 3:24 pm
Since I did the petition for Stonewall etc I’m hoping for the best and support of A good staff band.
January 9, 2017 @ 3:26 pm
I’ve never understood the complaint against inducting the younger stars. If they’re not showing up after induction, thats one thing; but getting mad about their induction altogether…like it or not, they’re the household names. As much as I love Jason Isbell, you and I both know to the average Opry Resorts customer he’s known as “Jason Who?!?”
January 9, 2017 @ 3:37 pm
It’s not about the age of the star, it’s about if the star respects country music and the Opry, and will fulfill the obligations of an Opry membership. Everybody wants to be an Opry member, but few want to actually fulfill the obligations of one. You need to have big-named stars playing the Opry to keep it relevant. But keep membership for the people who respect the institution enough to show up not just when it benefits them.
January 9, 2017 @ 5:33 pm
Here’s the thing, though: how many stars coming up today *actually* care enough to actively search out how to become an Opry member? My wife and I were talking about this the other day – we drove past a billboard for a new album and she wondered if the singer actually cared about being an Opry member for some reason – and as I told her, I imagine its something that their publicist arranges quietly as something like a present for their client. I mean, I chuckle when I see everyone write these articles congratulating Carrie Underwood for “doing the right thing” by appearing x number of times a year – always two shows in one night – when she and the Opry both have the same publicist.
Also, let’s face it, why *should* a young star care about the Opry? It’s just a building out at an outlet mall for many of them. Selling out the Ryman is a much bigger deal for most of them, I imagine, and at least then they aren’t just making money for someone else.
January 10, 2017 @ 9:22 am
Isbell is excellent. However is he a country artist? Many see him as an Americana artist, which the Oprey would not be interested in. Isbell been experimenting with different sounds.
January 10, 2017 @ 12:37 pm
Both Isbell and his wife Amanda Shires have been playing the Opry pretty frequently lately; Shires is actually playing this Saturday, and has one of the higher spots, I think.
The Opry has been opening itself up more to Americana types; I remember being shocked that Alabama Shakes basically closed the show about a year ago, but from all accounts the crowd loved them!
January 10, 2017 @ 12:45 pm
Well….well, well…..that is interesting. I did not know that. Apparently I haven’t followed Isbell that closely. Hmmm…On the Oprey, Wow. I suppose he could do full blown country if he wanted to, definitely got a voice and writing chops.
January 9, 2017 @ 3:40 pm
Interesting ideas for potential replacements. My guess is The Opry will put a number cruncher in there, not a performer. But if they found a performer with some managerial experience, perhaps it could work. Buddy Miller worked on the music of the “Nashville” series which is underwritten by the Opry’s parent company, so it’s not too far fetched.
January 9, 2017 @ 4:21 pm
Yeah, that’s my read, and it makes sense. They’re not going to turn over a massive business to someone with no managerial/business experience. That’d be sort of silly honestly. If I had to bet, it’d be someone from one of the labels.
January 9, 2017 @ 6:43 pm
Mike Dungan CEO of Universal MG Nashville would be an interesting choice.
January 9, 2017 @ 7:31 pm
I nominate Hank Williams Jr.
January 13, 2017 @ 3:43 pm
That would be cool but Hank Jr. don’t give a shit about the opry!!
January 9, 2017 @ 8:21 pm
Sam Hunt is playing the Ryman tonight. Apparently more heads shoul roll.
jessie with the long hair
January 9, 2017 @ 8:29 pm
Gary Overton needs a gig!
January 9, 2017 @ 9:07 pm
January 10, 2017 @ 8:17 am
To be come a Non Commissioned Officer in the Army you have to go before a board. They ask you questions related to the history of the Army, Our Nation, Our tools we utilize, etc. If we fail to answer these questions we fail to become promotable. (We are not ready to be leaders in our leaders eyes.) I wish the Opry could be voted by Opry Members and Opry Members only. To be honest I’m not sure how its currently operated in that aspect. However I think of the NCO Board, and maybe even the Heisman award. All voted by past members. Just food for thought.
January 10, 2017 @ 6:56 pm
If they consider a performer, Marty Stuart or Vince Gill would be the obvious choices. If it’s someone with a business background, maybe someone like Joe Galante or someone similar.
January 11, 2017 @ 8:59 am
VINCE GILL WOULD BE OUTSTANDING CHOICE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
January 11, 2017 @ 2:56 pm
I believe you are incorrect about Little Big Town not playing the Opry a minimum of 10 times per year. It seemed they were on the Opry every time I looked at the lineup last year.
Marty Stuart is a great ambassador for country music. I think he and Eddie Stubbs knows what needs to happen.
If the Opry only invites Americana artists to join, it will become a dying institution. I love Americana, but most people living in Nebraska has never heard of Jason Isbell.
January 11, 2017 @ 5:32 pm
I’m new to this page but here it goes. I am only 25 but I absolutely love country music all up until this new shit on the radio but that’s a different discussion. I’ve been to an opry show just once and for me I expected to see older stars, I was so hoping for Vince Gill but instead the bill was Rascal Flatts, Kelsea Ballerini, Chris Janson, Brothers Osborne, & the Gatlin Brothers. Let’s just say I wasn’t that thrilled .The minute I walked into the Opry for the first time I felt something magical, standing on that stage in the circle where some of the biggest legends have played is just amazing! The Opry is supposed to live up to the hype. I just wish they would focus on lineups, contrary to popular belief even us younger ones want to see legends along with new comers . It’s amazing to me that some of these stars talk how much of a big deal the Opry is but don’t seem to care all that much. Hopefully whoever takes over has the love and passion to take it to new levels .
January 13, 2017 @ 1:42 pm
God bless you, Kelly! If there were more 25 yr olds like you listening, maybe there wouldn’t be so much new sh*t on the radio these days.
January 13, 2017 @ 4:12 pm
I reckon i can see why he wouldn’t give a shit about the Opry. His daddy made the Opry and they wouldn’t reinstate him . Even after his death. That’s probably the reason I don’t give a shit about the opry. That is some crappy music they play anyway.
Maybe one day they will reinstate the king of country music, hell he is the opry and they making a killing off his name. But not good enough , my ass
January 15, 2017 @ 1:38 am
Roy Acuff, was considered “The King Of Country Music”,on the Opry, and held the title for 55 years. But, Hank, had more Hits.
Kitty Wells, was the reining “Queen of Country Music”.
January 15, 2017 @ 8:41 am
I reckon if you consider because he was in the business of helping sign stars to contracts and playing politics to other business in Nashville the opry would call him king .Because he owned a lot of opry shares so to speak . He was never the star our Hank was, just a political figure In the opry . BUT Never the King of country music
But if you wanna get to the nut cutting people that bought the records that wasn’t in the business so to speak know hank sr. As the king
January 15, 2017 @ 10:51 am
I wasn’t the one who gave Roy,that title. Actually,it was Dizzy Dean,the pro -baseball player,who coined Roy with the phrase,”King of the Hillbillies”. You’re correct about Roy never being the star,Hank was.And Roy,was Hank’s Idol. But, Roy was the first huge Star,in Country Music, and the Opry, hitting the Radio waves in 1937, and Hollywood in 1940. Nobody,can top
Hank Williams Sr.. I mean,nobody.
January 14, 2017 @ 9:19 pm
The “Change”,or the “Damage”,is done been made,or done, however you care to address the issue. I don’t see any “new” GM, backtracking,to try to re-kindle the charm,that has slowly seen go by the wayside. The TV Show-Nashville,just helped attract that new,younger, crowd,that probably wouldn’t come otherwise. Lot of things left in the past 16 years- The old red Barn backdrop, Martha White,Goo Goos,a Flood,and a newer variety of Music,not really considered Country,welcomed to perform and join. Money,is probably the top Motive. Lets hope whoever takes hold of the reins, makes the Opry a variety of Country Music,once more. Instead of a Variety Show, that it has become.
January 15, 2017 @ 1:34 am
I forgot to list Haialong with things of the Past, that has left in the last 16 year-Hairl Hensley,and Keith Bilbrey. Can’t leave them 2 ,out. I know Hairl had a stroke,but never really heard why Keith,left the Opry. Does anyone know why ?
January 14, 2017 @ 9:22 pm
The “KIng of Bluegrass”,the late Mr Jimmy Martin,was never allowed to be a Opry member. Couldn’t never understand that. Even after his rivals,died.
January 15, 2017 @ 2:58 pm
I’m glad he’s gone, he has pretty much ruined the Opry in my eyes. Today’s Opry broadcast bears little resemblance to what it was even 20 years ago with a lot of music by acts that are not only far more pop and rock than country but they don’t even have a single hit record to their credit. A far cry from when established country stars often couldn’t get a guest gig on the Opry.
January 15, 2017 @ 8:09 pm
I nominate you trigger! We need someone like you to #maketheoprygrandagain!
January 18, 2017 @ 5:29 pm
Byron Fay posted a Grand Ole Opry 2016 Year in Review article at his blog site. Blake Shelton once again ignored his commitment to the Opry. ZERO appearance for 2016.
September 17, 2020 @ 11:11 am
Run, Pete run, your master is calling you, he’s waiting on up ahead…
September 4, 2021 @ 11:55 am
I listened to the Grand Ole Opry on a radio and fulfilled my dream of seeing the Opry and paying my mom and sisters tickets who lived 1300 miles away to see it in real good seats! I hope my daddy in heaven can see it! Steve W is my favorite star although I Love a lot of the performers!