Chris Janson’s headlining debut at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on Monday night (Feb. 5) was just a few blocks away from his first Nashville home.
Thirteen years ago, Janson had arrived on Lower Broadway, and within an hour, his Monte Carlo got booted. Parked behind what is now Honky Tonk Central, the back seat would be Janson’s home for the next three weeks while he performed in downtown honky-tonks.
Keith Urban said he had known Janson for at least that long when he surprised Janson with an invitation join the Grand Ole Opry during Janson’s concert. The invite came after their surprise collaboration on John Michael Montgomery’s “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident).”
“To see this guy come through that,” Urban said, “slugging it out in the clubs playing night after night, the real deal, 24-7, to have a sold-out show at the Ryman, Chris … first of all, it’s one of my favorite places in the world; somebody once said it’s like playing inside an acoustic guitar. And it is, of course, one of the many homes of the Grand Ole Opry, which I’m a member of the Grand Ole Opry, and I remember the night I got invited. It was an incredible feeling, and I think it was about time you were invited.”
Janson didn’t even see the Opry’s General Manager Sally Williams place an official Opry microphone stand by his feet. His eyes were locked on Urban, and his face beamed as the invitation washed over him. And then the crowd went wild. It was an emotional moment for everyone there.
Throughout the night, Janson’s show was good clean family fun (with a fiery touch of Pentecostal revival). But then, he couldn’t help himself. Overcome with emotion, he let out a “Holy [expletive].”
“That’s where my heart is,” Janson said of the Opry. “I would have died before I had to quit singing country music. I know of nothing else. That’s it … I don’t know what to say.”
Janson’s Opry induction will take place this spring. Monday’s concert was sold out, and it was a performance worthy of an entertainer of the year nomination. For 90 minutes, all 130 pounds of the Missouri native worked the stage like a country James Brown.
His set included his current single “Drunk Girl,” additional selections from Everybody and Buy Me a Boat, as well as Merle Haggard and George Jones’ “Kickin’ Out the Footlights,” Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” Waylon Jennings’ “Lonesome, ’On’ry and Mean,” Hank Williams Jr.’s “A Country Boy Can Survive” and the Social Distortion version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”
Since his 2013 debut, Janson has performed on the Grand Ole Opry more than 100 times. The last time he staged a full performance at the Ryman was opening for Merle Haggard in 2014.