Paisley, Gill, Wariner and Skaggs, oh my! Opry launches 85th birthday celebration with a bang

By Chris Talbott, AP
Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Paisley, Gill, Wariner and Skaggs rock the Opry

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, Steve Wariner and Ricky Skaggs kicked off the Grand Ole Opry’s monthslong 85th birthday celebration Tuesday night with an all-star jam that took on new meaning following an historic flood.

The show was already a special occasion with four of country music’s greatest pickers joining together. The night took on added significance though when Opry officials decided to turn it into a benefit for flood relief.

“Gosh, they’re so good, so well known for what they’ve done,” Skaggs said of his fellow players in an interview with The Associated Press before the show. “It’s great they called on us to come out and do something like this.”

The show was at Ryman Auditorium, a former Opry home, after flood waters damaged the Opry House, plunging the stage under nearly 4 feet of water and damaging priceless country music artifacts and archives.

The Opry never skipped a beat, and the birthday kickoff came off as planned. Each player, all members of the Opry, turned in an individual set before coming together at the end.

“We’re going to have a great time!” Wariner said as he kicked off the guitar jam portion of the show with a scorching set that displayed his virtuosity on the guitar.

Wariner is one of just four men dubbed a “certified guitar player” by his mentor, Chet Atkins. The 2010 Grammy winner played a few cuts from his tribute to Atkins. He brought several members of the audience to their feet with a fiery rendition of “Blue Angel,” a classic guitar piece that Atkins cut in 1962.

Skaggs said he was excited to play the Ryman stage, the place where he says bluegrass was born. Skaggs told the story of how Bill Monroe was looking around for a new kind of music and hired Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs in the mid-1940s.

They used the platform of the Opry show, broadcast across much of the nation on WSM, to take the new kind of music they made to a wide audience for the first time.

“That’s one of the fires we try to keep burning,” Skaggs told the AP. “Bluegrass music was really birthed right here on this stage. A lot of people don’t know that.”

Skaggs led his band, Kentucky Thunder, through a set of Monroe standards, including a high-energy version of the instrumental “The Bluegrass Stomp,” and finished his set with “You Can’t Shake Jesus,” a cut from his forthcoming gospel album.

Opry host Eddie Stubbs said Gill lost at least 60 guitars and other gear in the flood valued at more than $1 million. He wasn’t the only one. Paisley, who also lost much of his traveling gear just weeks before launching a summer tour, also housed his equipment at Soundcheck, a popular storage and rehearsal space that was submerged.

Gill hasn’t talked much about the loss, but has led the flood relief effort, hosting a telethon and donating $100,000.

“When I found out I was going to lose a large amount of instruments,” he told a near-sellout crowd, “my wife (Amy Grant) came up to me and said, ‘You know what’s good about you? You only need one to make a living.’”

Paisley traveled in from the road for his performance, kicking off with his hit “Water” — the centerpiece of his ironically titled H2O Tour. The country superstar paid tribute to Gill, Skaggs and Wariner.

“I feel like the little kid who’s out on the playground right now,” Paisley told the crowd. “His mother just showed up and the big kids are out there playing basketball, and she walks out and says, ‘Let your little brother play. I know he’s not as good as you, but let him play.’”

The group came together and traded solos on a spirited version of Merle Haggard’s “Workin’ Man’s Blues” that brought a standing ovation.

Skaggs then said Paisley shouldn’t have run himself down during his solo set.

“I’m sure I’m speaking for all these other old men up here,” he said. “We think you’re a great guitar player and you don’t have to take a backseat to anybody, boy. We love you and we think you’re doing a great job.”

“He says right before he smokes me,” Paisley joked.

The group then played the Opry standard “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?”


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