The "Tribute to Johnny Russell," set for Thursday, March 22 at the Grand Ole Opry House, is shaping up to be one of the year's big entertainment events. There is even some talk of it being videotaped for eventual broadcast.
Producer Sam Lovullo, of Hee Haw fame, tells country.com that 67 artists have already committed to doing the show, including Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Loretta Lynn, Ricky Skaggs, Roy Clark, George "Goober" Lindsey, John Conlee, Bill Carlisle and the Oak Ridge Boys. George Jones, who was originally listed for the show, will not perform, Lovullo reports.
Ralph Emery and Gill will co-host the event, which begins at 7:30 p.m.
The aim of the concert is to raise funds to help cover Russell's continuing medical expenses. He has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1985 and is the writer of such hits as "Act Naturally," "Let's Fall to Pieces Together," "You'll Be Back (Every Night in My Dreams)," "Makin' Plans" and "Got No Reason Now for Goin' Home."
Lovullo, who moved back to California after his long-running Hee Haw series was cancelled, returned to Nashville especially to organize and oversee the show. "When I got here," he says, "I made it clear that if it was going to be done, it was going to be done in a television form, a variety form. I wasn't going to run people in and off like they do at the Grand Ole Opry. I'm not critical of that. But that's just not for a variety show."
Everyone involved directly in the show is donating his or her time. "It's beginning to mushroom into something really gigantic," Lovullo says. "The suggestion was made [in a production meeting] that while we're all at it, why don't we just put a camera on it. So I think that's in the talking stages. I'm not in control of that. But the show is being prepared [so] that with a couple of small adjustments, namely in audio and, of course, lighting, it could certainly go to videotape for eventual broadcasting."
Although WSM-AM, the Grand Ole Opry's home station, will not broadcast the event, it will build a live broadcast around the concert, with Eddie Stubbs hosting. The station did a similar on-site special around the final Kitty Wells and Johnny Wright show New Year's Eve, with Stubbs interviewing and reminiscing on-air with many of the participants.
Tickets for the benefit are $25, $30, $35 and are available from Ticketmaster and the Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium box offices.