Dierks Bentley, along with Terri Clark, Vince Gill and Lorrie Morgan, will kick off the month-long 95th anniversary celebration of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry Oct. 3 with a concert with a limited in-venue audience. A slate of other Opry members will perform each Saturday night throughout the month. To commemorate the anniversary, Bentley penned this piece for Billboard, reflecting fondly on his history with the vaunted institution.
Radio station 650AM, WSM, which has been broadcasting the Grand Ole Opry show since 1925, has a 50,000-watt radio tower. Its signal spreads across many states, but it didn’t quite reach Arizona. I had never even heard about the Opry until I moved to Nashville and started hanging out at a small hole in the wall venue called the Station Inn.
I instantly became a huge fan of the radio station, and of course the Friday and Saturday broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry. My first visit to the actual Opry House came when my friend Terry Eldredge invited me to come as a guest of the band he played in, the famed Osborne Brothers.
Being backstage with all the musicians and folks that make the magic happen, peering into dressing rooms, seeing the crowd, feeling the energy and history of the building…it was truly an overwhelming experience. And of course seeing the famous “circle” at center stage — the circle of wood that was cut out from the Opry’s most famous home, the Ryman Auditorium, and placed in the Opry’s new home, the Opry House, in 1974.
From that night on, I went to the Opry as much as possible. I even got a job working across the street from the Opry at The Nashville Network and CMT. Every Friday, I would sneak in the back door to watch and learn from some of the greatest entertainers ever: Grandpa Jones, Porter Wagoner, Vince Gill, to name a few. I actually went so often that the then-head of the Opry, Pete Fisher, sent an email to my boss saying that while they appreciated my interest in the Opry, the free pass was being revoked!
But I was undeterred. I actually made playing the Opry my main goal in music. I figured that if I ever played the Opry, everything else, including a publishing deal, a record deal, etc. would have had to fallen into place. I even made Pete Fisher’s name my password on my computer, so that I’d see it every day and stay focused on my goal.
The first time I played the Opry, I believe, was April 13, 2003. I went on directly before the first band I had ever seen at the Opry: The Osborne Brothers. As a huge fan of theirs, I was super nervous. We came off stage after playing my first single, “What Was I Thinking,” and I saw Sonny Osborne was sitting with his banjo on a pew stage right. I went over to say hello, but he spoke first. He said, “Could you hear anything at all?” I’m pretty sure he was referencing the stage volume of my band — we were used to playing small country and rock bars, and we played pretty loud. Getting burned by Sonny Osborne is still my favorite Opry memory.
I was on the road over 300 days a year in 2003, 2004 and 2005. When Marty Stuart jumped up on stage at the House of Blues in L.A. in 2005 and asked me to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry, I was beyond shocked. It really took a long time to sink in. Even the night of the induction in October of that year, I was still processing the invite. To go from being a fan, to a performer, to an actual member is more than I could have dreamed.
The Opry represents the past, present and future of Country Music. I couldn’t be more proud to be part of the family.