Country’s Brightest Stars Converge for Grand Ole Opry’s Matinee at the Ryman

JT Hodges. Photo: Lorie Liebig

The Grand Ole Opry returned to its original stage at the Ryman Auditorium for a special matinee concert during the 2015 CMA Music Festival.

The event was an opportunity for visitors to experience the Grand Ole Opry without having to travel to the current Opry house, which is located about 20 miles outside of the downtown area. The mid-day performance brought a crowd with the same size and energy as the audience at the traditional late night concerts.

The event began with a tribute to Opry member Jim Ed Brown, who lost his battle with cancer earlier this week at the age of 81. After raising their heads from a moment of silence for Brown, many audience members were surprised to see Charles Esten, an unpublicized addition to the show.

Esten praised Brown as a gentleman and for being incredibly welcoming to him when he made his Opry debut. “When you get home, find out more about him,” Esten urged the audience before performing his track, “Home By Suppertime.” “Make sure you pop a top in his honor later tonight.”

JT Hodges also took a moment during his set to remember Brown’s legacy. “His spirit is still here and shining through those windows,” Hodges said, pointing to the stained glass windows that were pouring rays of sunshine onto the crowd. He continued by singing “Gonna Need A Guitar,” written about his wife, and his current summer-tinged single, “Ray Bans.”

Sugarland member Kristian Bush took the stage at the Ryman for the first time as a solo artist. He expressed excitement about being able to share tracks from his album, Southern Gravity, with his longtime fans. The obvious favorite of the crowd was “Flip Flops,” a drinking song that Bush bashfully admitted was the first he’d ever written in his long career.

Mark Wills strolled onto the stage in jeans and a t-shirt, explaining that he had run to the Ryman only moments before taking the stage. “I had to fight three women with fans to get through the door,” Wills joked before performing his first hit from 1996, “Jacob’s Ladder.” He shared two more hits from his career, “Don’t Laugh at Me” and “19 Somethin’,” that gained cheers from the crowd.

Australian newcomer Morgan Evans‘ first time on the Ryman stage left a big impression on the audience. The CMA Global Artist award winner played three tracks that haven’t yet been released in America, including the heartfelt “Tears of Joy.” Still, the crowd rewarded him with a standing ovation and is definitely an artist to watch in the next few months.

Jamie Lynn Spears’ made her Ryman debut during the show. She shared her appreciation for country music after she performed “How Could I Want More.”

“Thank you for supporting country music,” she said to the crowd, “Because we couldn’t do it without every single one of you.” Spears also performed her own rendition of “I Got The Boy,” a song she penned that was recently cut by Jana Kramer.

Chris Janson told the audience about how he sang for 16 hours at the legendary Tootsie’s bar, located across an alley next to the Ryman. The result of those hours spent practicing his showmanship was a frantically high-energy set of his current single, “Buy Me a Boat,” the touching ballad, “When I’m Holding Her,” and a foot-stomping cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Longtime Opry member Connie Smith closed things out in style with her classic hits, “I’ll Come Running,” and “Burning a Hole in My Mind.” She also recognized the loss of Brown and dedicated her closing performance of fellow Opry member Martha Carson’s song “Satisfied” to him.

The mid-day performance was a great example of the wide variety of music that CMA Fest has to offer and showcased great music from both established artists and those who are just breaking into country music.

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Country’s Brightest Stars Converge for Grand Ole Opry’s Matinee at the Ryman