There was a heavy dose of star power in the air Tuesday night, September 28, as the Grand Ole Opry House welcomed back members old and new. The newly-renovated venue had been closed after sustaining significant damage in the Nashville flood last May. At a press conference prior to the show, 89-year old Little Jimmy Dickens, who is the oldest living member of the Opry, said he never dreamed that the Opry House could be restored to the extent that the building's owners have accomplished. "It is very touching for me to see what all they have done out here," Jimmy said. "I really look forward to coming to the Opry each week, not just to perform but to see and visit with my friends."

The Opry House sustained damages to the entire first floor of the venue. Water was 46 inches high over the Opry stage, and the building was closed for five months for repairs, with a price tag in the $20 million dollar range.

"For me, I always look for a silver lining when something like this happens," said Opry member Brad Paisley. "I think the silver lining for this is what they have done here to the Opry House. I think an extensive renovation like this would not have happened without the flood last spring."

Martina McBride echoed several of the other members when she said, "The Grand Ole Opry is the heart and soul of country music. It is something that we as artists dream of being a part of. I am happy to be here to participate in this historic night."

Keith Urban's path to the Opry stage was a little farther than those of his peers, by way of his native Australia. "I am grateful to be a part of this extraordinary evening for all of us," he said. "It was just about 10 years ago when I performed on the Opry for the first time. I have to say the feeling I had when standing on that circle from the Ryman was the same when I rehearsed today as that very first night."

Keith went on to say that he loved the fact that Opry officials allowed all styles of country music to be performed on the Opry, noting that this had been a tradition since the show began 85 years ago.

When asked to name some of their new favorite features of the building, Martina noted the quotes from artists about their first time playing the Opry, which are painted on the walls in one of the newly-remodeled dressing rooms. Each of the 12 rooms now reflects a part of the Opry's heritage.

"I remember one of my favorite parts of playing the Opry was being backstage and jamming with other musicians," Brad said. "I love the fact that they have chairs in the dressing rooms that were picked with that in mind." Looking at Keith, he said, "We're gonna have to take advantage of those chairs tonight!"

Before the evening performances began, a video hosted by Carrie Underwood gave a history of the Opry and showed footage of the flood inside and around the Opry House. "When the flood happened, people wondered if the circle could be broken," Carrie said. "What they discovered was that not only is the circle unbroken, it can never be broken."

Brad and Jimmy opened the evening with 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken,' while all the members of the Opry who were present for the evening came onstage to join them in singing the tune. While not everyone performed, Opry members who were in attendance included Jack Greene, John Anderson, the Whites, George Hamilton IV, John Conlee, Jeannie Seely, Bill Anderson, Jean Shepherd and Wilma Lee Cooper.

Bill hosted the first portion of the Opry show, noting that he was the last person to sing on the stage before the flood waters covered it. "I guess it is only fitting that I am the first person to sing tonight," he said as he took the stage. There was an air of warmth and love as the various members of the Opry took their places to perform. Jeannie recalled to the audience that she not only lost the Opry House, but her personal home was completely devastated by the flood. "I remember talking with some girlfriends and saying, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could just throw out everything and start over from scratch?' Let me tell you, when you have to do it it's not near as fun as just talking about it."

Mel Tillis drew a great response from the crowd with his medley of 'Good Woman Blues' and 'I Got the Hoss.' Riders in the Sky declined to yodel when they followed Jean Shepherd singing 'Second Fiddle (Tt an Old Guitar).' Instead, Ranger Doug and his pals chose to do 'Tumbling Tumbleweeds,' complete with the appropriate sounds of coyotes and other critters from Too Slim.

"It's an honor for me and the boys to be here for this auspicious occasion," Keith said when he took the stage. He went on to tell the audience, "I was all set for a recording session on the Monday after the flood, but all my guitars were destroyed. I borrowed some guitars and in the spirit of 'the show must go on,' we went into the studio and we did record as planned!"

Martina welcomed Connie Smith to the stage to sing with her. "I am very honored to get to sing with her on the Grand Ole Opry stage," Martina said. The two performed Connie's smash hit, 'Once a Day.'

Trace brought a little humor to the occasion when he came out to sing his latest single, 'This Ain't No Love Song.' "You know when the flood waters were four feet high, Little Jimmy Dickens would have had to be swimming if he was standing here," he said, pointing to the stage and the circle of wood from the Ryman. He paused a few seconds, then added with a grin, "I'd have been all right though!"

Brad chose to do his song, 'Anything Like Me,' while sitting on a stool, with just his guitar. "I had to fight back the tears on that first song tonight," he admitted. "I believe the Opry House is the greatest place in the world to sing country music."

Josh Turner recalled playing the Opry on the night before the flood hit. "We left the stage and took off for a concert date. When we got back all of the band members' cars that were parked in the parking lot were under water, so now they have all new vehicles." In introducing his song, "All Over Me," Josh said, "I feel kinda awkward singing this song tonight, because it's all about water, but I'm gonna do it anyway."

Josh invited Lorrie Morgan to join him onstage, and the two performed the George Jones/Tammy Wynette hit 'Golden Ring.' "I can't wait to sing this with Josh Turner," Lorrie said as she took the stage. The crowd applauded the two as Josh finished the song, delivered in his very best George Jones singing voice.

Dierks Bentley chose to honor the bluegrass tradition of the Opry, singing 'Draw Me a Map,' from his most recent album, 'Up on the Ridge.' Then he invited bluegrass great Del McCoury and his band to join him. "In 1963, Del was playing with Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass, and he recorded this song with Bill. I wanted my chance to sing it with Del, so we're gonna do it tonight." They then launched into a rousing version of 'Roll on Buddy, Roll On.'

Charlie Daniels and Montgomery Gentry brought the house down with their rendition of 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia.' "It is always an honor to stand on this circle," Charlie said before inviting the duo to join him onstage. "These are two of my best friends from the music business," he said by way of introduction. The crowd gave them a standing ovation as they finished the tune.

Blake and Trace sang their hit duet, 'Hillbilly Bone,' prior to Blake being invited to become the newest member of the Opry on October 23. A guitar jam with Brad, Keith, Steve Wariner, Ricky Skaggs and Marty Stuart closed the evening. As the musicians played the last notes of Merle Haggard's 'Working Man Blues,' the audience once again came to its feet to honor all the Opry members and guests who had graced the stage and the Grand Ole Opry itself.

The Opry celebrates its 85th anniversary next weekend with an open house, with fans invited to take tours through the renovated facility. There will also be free music on the Opry Plaza, and the Grand Ole Opry will resume regular weekend performances beginning on Friday evening, October 2.

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