It was a homecoming to write home about.
The Grand Ole Opry returned to its official and massively-renovated residence Tuesday night (Sept. 28) with a show that spotlighted some of the top acts in country music, old and new. And it surprised Blake Shelton with an invitation to become a member.
The revered radio program is now approaching its 85th year of continuous operation.
The historic flood that devastated Nashville in May inundated the Grand Ole Opry House on Briley Parkway, the Opry’s home since 1974.
Water stood four feet deep on the stage. In the months since the deluge, construction workers have laid new floors, refinished and redecorated dressing rooms, installed high-definition projection and programmable lighting and built a new artists’ lobby and concessions stands.
The green room, just behind the stage, is now adorned with a strip along the wall that marks how high the flood waters stood.
One victim of the flood was the circle of wood that had been taken from the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, the Opry’s most famous home, and set into the stage of the new Opry building. Craftsmen were able to restore and refinish it, however, and return it to center stage.
Tuesday night’s lineup featured Shelton, Jason Aldean, Keith Urban, Martina McBride, Connie Smith, Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley, Josh Turner, Lorrie Morgan, Dierks Bentley, Del McCoury, Charlie Daniels, Montgomery Gentry, Steve Wariner, Ricky Skaggs and Marty Stuart.
President Obama sent videotaped congratulations.
Late in the show, Shelton and Adkins sang their recent hit, “Hillbilly Bone.” After the song was finished and the applause was dying down, Adkins noted that Shelton was known for constantly sending out Twitter messages. He then held up a cell phone and told Shelton that the Opry had sent him a “tweet.” That message, Adkins continued, was an invitation to become an Opry member.
As his fiancée, Miranda Lambert, beamed from the audience, Shelton stumbled about the stage in surprise.
“Man, that’s taken a long time,” he said to the cheering audience. “I know a lot of guys who want this as bad as I’ve wanted it. Forget them! This is hands down the highlight of my career.”
Paisley, Urban, Wariner, Skaggs and Stuart closed the show with a fiery guitar and mandolin jam on “Workin’ Man Blues.”
Opry management held a press conference an hour before the doors opened for the show. Grand Ole Opry Group president Steve Buchanan told the reporters assembled backstage, “The grand lady has just gotten a little more grand. … It feels like having the family here for Christmas Day. All the kids are home.”
He then called on Little Jimmy Dickens, Paisley, Urban and McBride to voice their appraisals — both of the repairs and of the Opry as an institution.
The normally-whimsical Paisley was completely serious when he came to the lectern.
“To me, the whole flood is about looking for a silver lining in all this,” he said. “What they’ve done [here] is nothing short of a miracle.” He speculated the building would not have been upgraded to its current state of excellence had it not been flooded.
Dickens, who can also be counted on for a wisecrack, had none to offer this time. He said he brought his wife to the Opry House recently and that she was so moved by the improvements, she wept.
“[The Opry] is something that we as artists always dream about being a part of,” McBride declared.
Urban, who first played the Opry about 10 years ago, said, “That feeling of standing on that circle is as profound [today] as it was the first time.” The Opry is especially important, he said, because it displays country music in all its diversity.
“I look forward every week to coming to this Grand Ole Opry — not just to perform but to see my friends,” said Dickens, who, at 89, is the show’s oldest living member.
All Dickens’ ornate stage suits — save one — were stored at the Opry House and soaked by flood waters. But he said Opry officials quickly had them dry cleaned and delivered to him.
The flood also destroyed most of Urban’s and Paisley’s guitars, which were stored in a warehouse near the rampaging Cumberland River. Paisley said the guitar he would later be playing on the Opry was “bought with insurance money.”
Urban said he, too, was forced to get new guitars but that he was still fixated on the ones he’d loved and lost. “I didn’t want to start dating right away,” he quipped.
Paisley said he was quite content with his “loose” date.
“There were also lots of banjos lost,” Paisley observed just before the press conference ended. “So there was a silver lining.”View photos from the reopening of the Grand Ole Opry House.