It’s been 30 years since the legendary Texas Troubadour Ernest Tubb made a young Kentucky musician’s dream come true by inducting him into the Grand Ole Opry. Ricky Skaggs shared the memory on stage last night during a special Opry show celebrating his 30th anniversary with the famed country music institution.
“I love being here and I love being a part of it,” Skaggs told Billboard before the show. “I never take it for granted.”
Josh Turner, Alison Krauss, Keith & Kristyn Getty, Edens Edge, Dailey & Vincent and The Whites were on hand to help Skaggs celebrate the career milestone. Ninety-one year-old Opry legend Little Jimmy Dickens welcomed Skaggs to the stage and the 14-time Grammy winner spent the evening performing with his special guests, clearly reveling in the chance to play and sing with good friends.
The Gettys were heading to Glasgow, Scotland to start a tour and changed their travel dates to be a part of Skaggs’ special evening. “I couldn’t hardly believe it when they told me,” Skaggs says of the schedule change. “They just said, ‘This is important to you and you are important to us. We love you.’ They wanted to be here for this night.”
During the evening Skaggs joined Edens Edge to perform their debut single “Amen.” He and Turner delivered “Me and God” from one of Turner’s early albums. Skaggs took the stage with Dailey and Vincent to sing the Stanley Brothers’ classic “On a Lonesome Night” and Skaggs and Krauss created pure magic on “Talk About Suffering” and “Down to the River to Pray,” the latter from the “O Brother, Where Are Thou?” soundtrack.
Skaggs joined his wife Sharon and her family band Opry regulars The Whites to perform “Big Wheel” from their 2007 collaborative album “Salt of the Earth.” Skaggs had the audience singing along on his hits “Heartbroke,” “Honey (Open That Door)” and “I Wouldn’t Change You if I Could.” The evening ended with all artists gathered on stage to sing the worship anthem “In Christ Alone.”
Skaggs says camaraderie has always made the Opry a special experience for him. “The Opry is a family,” he says. “We love each other. We care about each other. When Little Jimmy Dickens is sick, we all hurt for him. We pray for him. We’re a family and when someone is getting married or has a grandchild, we’re so proud for them. We’ll send flowers and we’ll send a card or whatever. We’re family and that’s something that you can’t take away.”
The Opry’s most recent inductee, Keith Urban, was surprised with an invitation to join the Opry while on stage at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena during a benefit concert for the Country Music Hall of Fame. Skaggs’ invitation 30 years ago was less public, but no less meaningful. “Hal Durham, Opry’s general manager, called me up and said, ‘Could we go to lunch some day son?’ and I said ‘Sure,'” Skaggs recalls. “So he pops the big question out there while we’re having lunch. I said, ‘Golly shucks! Let me think about it for about five seconds, well yes I want to do this!'”
Early in his Opry membership, Skaggs recalls Opry patriarch Roy Acuff being somewhat skeptical of his commitment. “Mr. Acuff told me that first night, ‘You’ll be just like all the rest of these young kids that we bring in here. You’ll come a few times and then you won’t come. You’ll just go out and be making so much money on the road that you won’t think about us back here. You won’t think about the Opry.’ It really got under my feathers a little bit when he said that,” Skaggs admits. “I said, ‘Mr. Acuff, you don’t know me. You don’t know my heart for this music. You don’t know my heart for the Grand Ole Opry. In my mind I wanted to say — and I didn’t say it because I respected him too much — but I wanted to say, ‘Old man you are going to eat those words.'”
So Skaggs proved him wrong. “Every weekend that weren’t working the road, I’d go and do the Opry and I’d always go and knock on his door and I’d stick my head in and say, ‘Hey Mr. Acuff, just wanted to let you know I’m here again this weekend’ and he’d go, ‘Okay son, well I’m glad you came.’ Finally it got to be so often that I would stick my head in and say ‘yeah we’re here again Mr. Acuff,’ and it got to be almost like I was pestering him when I’d come just to let him know. He did definitely have to eat those words.”
Skaggs says over the years his appreciation for the Grand Ole Opry has deepened. “I’m thankful for 14 Grammys and 1985 [Country Music Assn.] Entertainer of the Year award, but I’m most grateful for the Opry,” he says. “It may be my greatest achievement and I didn’t achieve it. It was bestowed. It was given to me as a gift and when you’ve been given something as a gift, you take better care of it sometimes than if you work for something, achieve that and move onto something else. You don’t appreciate it maybe so much, but this was given and it’s a precious gift. I’m just grateful to have it.”