The Grand Ole Opry is without a doubt the beating heart of Nashville and country music. And it will be celebrating its foundational role in music history this fall, with a remarkable milestone of hosting its 5000th Saturday-night broadcast with three generations of Opry members.
But before that, let’s take a look at the most iconic performances that have taken place at its legendary stage. Here are some of the moments that thrilled, delighted, and surprised us for the past 95 years.
1. Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow” (August 1, 2015)
Parton was only thirteen and an unknown young girl from the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee when she first performed at the iconic show. Ten years later, she was officially inducted as an Opry member.
And when she celebrated her 50th anniversary of membership in 2015, she marked the event by returning to the show for the first time in more than a decade.
It was a two-hour special of Parton performing her greatest hits with her trademark of charisma. This includes her performance of the ancient Appalachian ballad “Little Sparrow,” in which she warned the audience that it would be a slow, quiet, and sad piece. “If you feel the need to cough or sneeze or hark or whatever you need to do, you just do it,” she said. “I’ll just keep on singing.” The audience hardly made the slightest sound throughout the performance, and she earned a standing ovation at the end.
2. Ashely McBryde’s “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” (June 16, 2017)
When a teacher didn’t believe in her Nashville-bound, country music dreams and tried to bring her down, she persevered and trusted her timeless tone and keenness. And that determination landed her on the stage of the Opry, where she proved her detractors wrong with an emotional performance of “Girl Goin’ Nowhere,” a song about a little girl making her dreams come true, despite the odds.
Interestingly, McBryde wrote the song thinking about someday performing at the prestigious Ryman stage.
3. Merle Haggard’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” (October 17, 2015)
Haggard helped celebrate the Opry’s 90th anniversary with a remarkable set – including “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” which he wrote and released in 1980 and a No. 1 hit on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart.
Though the Opry rendition came at a faster tempo, it still has room for some instrumental vamp up, such as a groovy guitar solo from the country legend. It was Haggard’s final performance at the Opry.
4. Randy Travis’ “Forever and Ever, Amen” (May 4, 2019)
The country icon celebrated his 60th birthday on the Opry’s hallowed stage, where he was joined by his fellow country star Don Schlitz, Ricky Skaggs, Josh Turner, Charles Esten, and more to sing his 1987 hit “Forever and Ever, Amen.”
Things took a heart-filling turn when Travis – who suffered a devastating stroke in 2013 that robbed the baritone-singing icon of his voice and motor functions – took the mic to carry out the song’s final “amen.”
5. Vince Gill and Patty Loveless’s “Go Rest High on That Mountain” (May 2, 2013)
After George Jones’ passing in 2013, he was honored with a funeral at the Grand Ole Opry a few days later. It featured an all-star lineup singing his life to mark his death. And one of the most emotional performances was Gill’s tribute to the country legend with fellow country singer Patty Loveless with their soulful “Go Rest High on That Mountain.”
So, which among the performances inspired you the most?
Ashely McBryde, Dolly Parton, merle haggard, Patty Loveless, Randy Travis, Vince Gill