America's Grand Ole Opry Turns 90
Tyrades!By Danny Tyree
News that the venerable "Grand Ole Opry" radio show turns 90 on November 28 starts my memories flowing.
I remember making an audio cassette of the first couple of hours of the 50th anniversary broadcast in 1975, seeing Opry icon Roy "Wabash Cannonball" Acuff shopping at the Nashville Fairgrounds Flea Market and writing a letter to the Nashville Banner in the early 80s protesting plans to strip Nashville's WSM-AM 650 of the "clear channel" status that enabled it to bring music to listeners in umpteen states.
I recall writing a column in 2004 about Uncle Dave Macon Days in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, honoring the early Opry star (the article being titled "Tyree's Guide To Macon Love"), discovering public radio's "A Prairie Home Companion" and learning that the Opry inspired Garrison Keillor and listening to my mother tell of a 1951 group excursion to the Opry during which one neighbor accidentally "bear-hugged" a utility pole while gawking at all the big-city sights near Ryman Auditorium.
I get a warm, fuzzy feeling thinking of all the folks who walked the hills and hollows, rode a horse-drawn buggy or piled into a battered Ford Model A to visit the nearest neighbor who had a radio, so they could join in the Saturday night communal experience of listening to the "Mother Church of Country Music."
I hope many more generations will get to make Opry memories.
Admittedly, some people wonder just how meaningful those memories will be. Jean Shepard (who as of November 21 is the first female artist to reach the 60-year mark as an Opry member, and is the longest-tenured current member of the show) has recently expressed some harsh sentiments. She has said, "Country music today isn't country, and I'm very adamant about that" and "Country music today isn't genuine."
Although fans and performers have probably been bewailing the evolution of country since even before bib overalls gave way to rhinestones and Nashville's "cosmopolitan country" of the Sixties emerged, Ms. Shepard does bring to mind the fact that the Opry and other country music venues need balance.
The Opry cannot survive as an insect forever preserved in amber. But a "new broom sweeps clean" mantra powered by hipster focus groups could be equally disastrous.
The Opry needs a mixture of veteran acts that may be far removed from their peak commercial days but who still have something entertaining and soul-satisfying to offer, today's solid stars who are willing to meet their membership obligations and newcomers (whether thrashing electric guitars or headlining jug bands) who are hungry for their chance at stardom.
If the Opry cast is to be a family, we must remember what family means. Unless you're talking about a dysfunctional family, you wouldn't send the old folks away on an ice floe, disrespect the contributions of the current breadwinners or totally disregard the opinions of the children or new sons-in-law or daughters-in-law.
Families hang onto traditions, but traditions evolve. Great-grandma's rhubarb pie recipe may wind up digitized. The matriarch becomes the guest of honor as a new generation hosts family dinners.
With the right blend of "keepin' it real" and "keepin' it relevant", the former home of the Gully Jumpers, Fruit Jar Drinkers and Hank Williams Sr. should chug along and have Martian colonists tapping their toes someday. But with the wrong attitude, the Mother Church of Country Music wouldn't have a prayer.
© 2015 Danny Tyree. Danny welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page "Tyree's Tyrades". Danny's' weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.
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