It was a highly energized crowd that packed the Opry house in anticipation of Jamey Johnson receiving one of country music’s greatest honors – membership in the Grand Old Opry.
For Johnson, who remembers listening to the Opry on his transistor radio as a kid, and who first appeared on the Opry as a guest performer in September of 2005, becoming an official member was a longtime dream come true.
In an interview earlier in the week, he recalled first listening to the Opry on the radio after the release of the movie Smokey and the Bandit and the song “Eastbound and Down.”
“Banjo picking was kind of a cool thing for a kid my age out in rural Alabama and that’s probably how I found the Opry. There was probably somebody on there playing the banjo and I just parked it right there to see what else we were going to hear. It wasn’t like I was a big fan of bluegrass, I just loved the sound of “Eastbound and Down.” He laughed, then went on to add, “And that banjo just tearin’ it up.”
His induction would take place in the second half of the show, after performances by the Gatlin Brothers, Deana Carter, Charley Worsham, and intermission.
The second half opened with Johnson performing “The School of the Fiddle and Steel.” It was a song he wrote and sang when he first played the Opry. The crowd rose to its feet as he sang. He followed it up with “Somewhere Between Jennings and Jones.”
Later, Bill Anderson joined him for the actual induction as the two first performed “Give It Away.”
It was one of several full-circle moments for Johnson. It was Bill Anderson who introduced him on stage at that first appearance 17 years ago. The two men would go on to write a number of songs together, including “Give It Away” which they wrote with fellow songwriter Buddy Cannon.
It was Bill Anderson who surprised Johnson on stage in March when he told him he was about to become an official member of the Grand Old Opry.
And it was Anderson who would induct him. Anderson told the audience, “I knew from the first time I met him, I knew he was one of us. And by that, I mean he had a country heart and a country soul. And I knew more than anything in the world he wanted to be a part of the Grand Ole Opry.”
He then officially welcomed Johnson as its newest member, noting that it’s quite an elite membership. Since the Opry began in 1925 there have been 227 members. Johnson becomes it’s 228th.
“I don’t have to tell y’all what this means to me,” Johnson told the crowd. “Any of y’all know me, you know I’ve been talking about this since I was a kid. And I ain’t a kid anymore. Y’all can tell that by the gray in the beard.”
He laughed, then said, “I’m so thrilled to have every one of you here tonight to help me celebrate. Thank you.”
Johnson is much loved throughout the music community and has legions of devoted fans. In fact, there were were so many family, friends, and fellow Marines who wanted to help him mark the occasion, he ended up renting a huge venue for the after- party.
The 11-time GRAMMY-nominated songwriter is one of few people in the history of country music to win two Song of the Year Awards from both the Academy of Country Music AND the Country Music Association. The first time was for “Give It Away,” and the second was for his much loved song “In Color.” The man the Washington Post once described as “one of the greatest singers of our time,” wrapped up his Induction night set with an emotional rendition of “In Color.” And the crowd absolutely loved it.
Saturday was also a special night for Ricky Skaggs who celebrated his 40th Anniversary as an Opry member. As he performed several of his hits from the 80s, “Heartbroke” and “I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could,” he said, “I know exactly how Jamey feels tonight. That was me 40 years ago.”
The two would men collaborate on the hymn “Near the Cross” as the night drew to a close.
As the Grand Ole Opry strives to honor country music’s past, present, and future, it couldn’t pick a better ambassador than Jamey Johnson. And he couldn’t be more proud to be among those chosen to do it.