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  Industry Profile

Industry Profile: Pete Fisher

— By Larry LeBlanc

This week in the hot seat with Larry LeBlanc: Pete Fisher

The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, which turns 85 next year, has spent most of its eight decades as the world’s most venerated name in country music.

For millions of fans, the Grand Ole Opry is synonymous with country music, a symbol of the music they grew up on and love.

In 1999, for the first time in its recent history, the Grand Ole Opry hired a full-time head when Pete Fisher was named GM of the Grand Ole Opry. He has since become VP & GM.

Today, Fisher produces the weekly Opry shows and oversees the Grand Ole Opry House, and Acuff Theatre. He is also executive producer of “America’s Grand Ole Opry Weekend,” the two-hour syndicated radio program heard weekly on 115 stations in North America via Westwood One.

Gaylord Entertainment owns the Opry House and the adjacent Gaylord Opryland Resort, where WSM-AM — the long-time radio broadcaster of the Opry — has a glass-walled booth in the lobby from which several on-air shows are done.

Gaylord Entertainment bought the Opry in 1983.

A move from the historic Ryman Auditorium to the new Grand Ole Opry House at Opryland in 1974 had by then helped solidify the Opry’s presence in the new country order.

Two years later, TNN televised a 30-minute Opry show, the first time in 30 years the Opry was on TV.

Prior to joining the Opry, Fisher was a partner in Fisher Raines Entertainment where he managed Paul Brandt, Marcus Hummon, and Carolyn Arends. He had been VP of artist relations for the country roster of affiliated Creative Trust.

Fisher also spent seven years at WarnerSongs, where he managed the joint-venture publishing operation between Warner/Reprise Records and Warner/Chappell Music.

Before entering the music business, Fisher earned a bachelor's degree from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, majoring in recording industry management.

For generations of country artists., the Grand Ole Opry has been one of the single most important elements of their careers

However, by the late ‘90s, the Opry was being criticized as the home for aging acts no longer on the charts or relevant to today’s country audience.

Under Fisher's tutelage, the Opry began a concerted effort to bring a greater number of young acts into the Opry mix, both as members and as visiting performers. He also understands that the Opry—to survive—needs to be a reflection of the various generations and styles of country music.

But Fisher initially faced a tough battle in convincing newer or younger artists to commit to the Opry, largely due to their career demands which have increased greatly for country acts in recent times. Also, performing there is no longer as essential as it was in terms of building a career in country music.

However, for some contemporary acts like Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley, Carrie Underwood, Josh Turner and Terry Clark, membership in the Opry is a symbol of being part of country music heritage alongside Hank Williams, Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, Ernest Tubb, Loretta Lynn and many others.

Amidst a whirlwind schedule, country’s hottest young star Taylor Swift has made several Opry appearances since her emergence in the genre.

Another area that has Fisher concentrated on during his decade-long tenure has been building the very brand name of the Opry itself. It is a brand that is known worldwide but had grown stale over the decades.

Fisher is widely credited for revitalizing the Opry while retaining many of the elements that make the Opry unique.

A strong country music advocate, Fisher serves as president of the Nashville Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS). He also serves on the board of directors for the Nashville Songwriters Foundation and the Academy of Country Music.

You are the first full-time GM of the Grand Ole Opry?

That’s right. Previous folks who had this area for responsibility also oversaw other businesses such as WSM Radio or Opryland Productions, a corporate production services company.

When I came in June, 1999 I came on as a dedicated full-time manager strictly for the Opry which not only encompasses the Grand Ole Opry show but also the Grand Ole Opry House venue.

Based on availability, when an artist rolls in (to Nashville) and wants to play to 4,400 seats at the Grand Ole Opry House, we’ll do a show here. We’ve had Stone Temple Pilot, the Killers and Robin Williams here in the past year.

There’s an 1,800 seat venue next door called the Acuff Theatre where we hosted (USA Network’s) “Nashville Star” for six seasons. “CMT Crossroads” (which pairs a country artist with a performer from another genre of music) is shot there. Taylor Swift and Def Leppard did one of those last year (running on CMT Nov. 7, 2008). We do the CMT “By Invitation” shows in Studio A here as well.

Taylor Swift and Def Leppard are an unlikely mix.

One of the strangest nights for me was in (December) 2001. It was like a (Federico) Fellini film. In November and December, we present the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” at Grand Ole Opry House and the Opry (show) is presented at the Ryman Auditorium (downtown).

One night, I was standing in a hallway looking one way I saw a camel and a donkey from the living nativity scene (from “ Radio City Christmas Spectacular”); a couple of the Rockettes (dancers); and several little people (midgets) with the show walking down the hallway.

Down in Studio A, we were taping Hank Williams Jr. and Kid Rock on “Crossroads” I looked down that hallway and there was Kid Rock, Hank Williams Jr. and Pam Anderson while (4’11” country music icon) Little Jimmy Dickens was getting his show costume out of his locker to go down to the Ryman for “Opry at the Ryman.”

In one eye shot, I could see Hank Jr., Pam Anderson, Kid Rock, the Rockettes, camels, a donkey, little people, and Little Jimmy Dickens.

There are numerous ancillary entertainment products from the Opry you also oversee.

Yes, there’s our syndicated radio show “America’s Opry Weekend,” distributed through Westwood One, which is carried on 115 stations. That’s a post produced two hour version of the Opry that features both live performances and studio recordings, primarily with a contemporary focus to target a 25 to 54 demo. Four times a year, we present celebrity co-hosted specials that get picked up on 70 additional stations.

We also have done some compilation records as well. I am significantly involved in the development of those projects, especially projects like “Grand Ole Opry - Live At Carnegie Hall” and “How Great Thou Art” which we partnered with Sony on.

While the Grand Ole Opry is an iconic institution it is also a brand that continually needs to be refreshed.

Yes, absolutely. When you mention (the) Grand Ole Opry, it conjures countless thoughts and impressions in peoples’ minds. That’s what a brand is all about. In short, a brand is a promise. As we have increased the reach and the relevance of the brand, we have always been mindful of those attributes that exist in peoples’ minds. You want to build upon the legacy. You want to build upon the heritage. You are not trying to replace anything. You are just trying to perpetuate it. And so, celebrating the legacy of country music today requires a real mind set that is tuned into what is resonating with consumers. We are really trying to present history packaged in a contemporary way.

How do you accomplish that?

One of the practices we adopted when I got here in 1999 was to adopt an inclusive approach to booking artists. Our principal programming philosophy for the Opry is that we want to present new stars, superstars, and the legends of country music. We want to present a show that features the past, present and future of country. And, all of the (country) music styles whether they be traditional, contemporary or alternative.

Are you mindful of that mix in each show you present?

We are. It is something we strive for. Of course, artists availability impacts how close to the mark we hit. But, with every single show that we present, we want to present a mix of newcomers, superstars and legends. We actually celebrate putting traditional music next to contemporary music. The Grand Ole Opry doesn’t define what country music. It reflects what country music is.

But everyone has a different idea of what country is.

Yes, that story has been told in country music for years. It is because the (country) brand has been built upon heritage, tradition and respecting the elders. We do that at the Opry. The majority of our programming time is still given to the legends of country music that we revere like (Little) Jimmy Dickens, Bobby Osborne, Jim Ed Brown, and Jeannie Seely. They are all still very familiar faces on the Opry stage.

When I wake up every morning I really do try to think what I can do to help perpetuate what someone like Jimmy Dickens has given to the Opry for 61 years. I don’t want his efforts to be in vain. [Roy Acuff first introduced Dickens on the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium in 1948]

The best response we can give to critics is success. If one looks up the past several years, I think they will see a Grand Ole Opry that is more relevant; more inclusive of a variety of performers; and an Opry that still celebrates the heritage and legacy (of country music). I think that’s the key. (Still), the key to the Opry’s longevity is tied to its ability to evolve with the times. Things that don’t change die.

We do all we can to understand (criticism of modernism). The bottom line is that whenever you are trying to do something that is impactful, like growing the contemporary relevance of the Grand Ole Opry, you recognize that there are those who have troubles with (us) doing that. When I say “those” I mean mostly fans and listeners of the Grand Ole Opry.

The Opry recently had a visibly nervous Steve Martin onstage along with John McEuen (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Stuart Duncan, and Tim O’Brien and others. That’s a strange lineup.

That started with conversations with John McEuen with an attitude of openness and letting that opportunity occur. Of course, we were interested in having Steve Martin on the stage. We love doing those things that will turn some heads and open some eyeballs. But, it’s like a soup. If you put the right ingredients in the pot, it’s going to taste great. We don’t shape what the soup tastes like. We just might shape who is going to be on the stage. We let the music come from the people that are best at making music.

[Actor Steve Martin, an accomplished banjo player, made his Grand Ole Opry debut on May 30, 2009 performing songs from his first music album, “The Crow - New Songs for the Five-String Banjo.”]

You really operate as an A&R person in casting bills.

To some extent, yes. But we have enough latitude, and enough license, that given our programming philosophy (new stars, superstars and legends as well as contemporary, alternative and traditional music on the same stage) there’s a lot of room to roam. And out of that comes these wonderful musical moments.

I recall a magical night at the Opry after Waylon Jennings died in 2002.

The show was with Travis Tritt, Hank Williams Jr., Marty Stuart and Vince Gill, and it was hosted by Porter Wagoner. That kind of magic happens when we give it the opportunity to happen. A lot of our success comes from providing the opportunity for success. We are not tightly formatted. We like a “bet on all horses” approach. I think our (country) radio world has become so restricted and tightly formatted that we don’t allow enough wiggle room for that magic to recur there anymore. A lot of reason why the Opry is successful is because we put the show in the hands of the artists that make the magic. That (Waylon Jennings) show was not scripted. In fact, four of the five artists that were on that show were booked before Waylon passed away

How many cast members are there with the Grand Ole Opry today?

We currently have 66.

[Any decision to increase the Opry’s ranks is made exclusively by Fisher and his management team. The decision to bring a new act into the Opry fold is a two-pronged one, based on a combination of career accomplishment (radio airplay, CD and ticket sales, industry recognition) and a commitment by the artist to appear at least 10 times annually.]

There are a number of contemporary artists for whom the Opry connection has been important.

I would say (that includes) Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, and Trisha Yearwood for sure. Garth (Brooks) has always treasured his association with the Opry. Even in recent years, legends like Mel Tillis and Charlie Daniels have come in (as new members). The Opry is meaningful to many country music artists.

Artists recognize the importance of an appearance on the Opry. Not necessarily that it is going to blast out to hundreds of millions of people around the world but more so that they are playing an official role in shaping the history of country by playing on that stage. Performers will say, “I don’t get nervous anywhere except when I play the Grand Ole Opry.

Bluegrass veteran Ricky Skaggs has said that there are Grand Ole Opry members, and there are Grand Ole Opry stars. He meant that some members don’t perform often. You have knocked down the number of required annual performances down from 26 to 10 times recently.

Over the years the appearance requirements have changed as the demands on an artists career has changed. Now we ask for an artist to make a best effort to appear 10 times in a year. We do take a very proactive stance to booking the show. We reach out constantly to our membership as well as to guest artists to perform.

How does one talk Taylor Swift into playing the Grand Ole Opry when her career is moving at such a quick pace?

Well, it starts with the artist. I have never experienced an artist who has the perspective and wisdom that Taylor has. I was fortunate to spend a few days on the road with her very early when Big Machine Records was launching her. I got to know her a little bit and saw how she worked at radio stations and in front of crowds. When I had the opportunity to hear her (self-titled 2006 debut) album from start to finish in at one of the airports while we were traveling, I was convinced that this is an artist that not only could write songs but could share a perspective on how she sees the world and connects with a variety of people.

Newer acts like Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley, Carrie Underwood, Josh Turner and Terry Clark have become Grand Ole Opry members in recent years.

Do you try to build relationships early with those new artists that could be potential Opry performers?

That’s correct. One thing that I’ve realized in the ten years I’ve been here is that if, for the most part, the Opry does not weave itself into the fabric of an artist’s career early on, we won’t be a part of it. So we really try to become a familiar part of an artist’s career. Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Josh Turner and Trace Adkins are great examples (of us doing that). We want to be part of that formula of success for an artist.

A lot of the time, an artist’s attraction to the Opry is a very genuine emotional connection. The Grand Ole Opry, to them, means time that they spent with their grandparents or the way that they first were introduced to the industry that they now make a career out of. The stories that come (from artists) out of memories of the Grand Ole Opry are pretty powerful. So artists that are launching their careers today are the artists that were watching the Opry on CMT and GAC (cable television network Great American Country) just a few years back. Their experiences of the Grand Ole Opry are those experiences that we played a part in just a few years ago.

I think artists enjoy the association with the (Opry) brand. A great case in point is Carrie Underwood. Three weeks after she left the “American Idol” stage she came to the Opry because she wanted to communicate to the world that she was a country music performer, and that she respected the values of the country music industry and the (Opry) format.

[Former “American Idol” winner Carrie Underwood became a member of the Grand Ole Opry on May 10, 2008. “I felt like I just won something amazing all over again," said the Oklahoma native singer. “The Opry has meant so much to me growing up, seeing people perform and wanting to do that."]

Decades ago, artists would be hanging out in Nashville recording. Today, a country artist is playing everywhere and anywhere.

I make an effort to go out and see artists on the road, whether it’s Brad Paisley, and Dierks Bentley in Chicago or Kenny Chesney and Montgomery Gentry in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

It’s amazing how broad the appeal of country music has become. Of course, you see it first hand when the (annual) CMA Music Festival is presented in Nashville held (in June) too.

You just have to go around to these cities. Folks realize that country music is no longer about the high lonesome sound of fiddles and steel guitars. It’s about music that touches them where they are living. Its real people singing real songs about real life. It’s that connection that country music achieves with its listeners that really is what perpetuates (the genre).

The best entertainers in our genre are the ones that really have the ability to capitalize on that connection. Kenny Chesney can do that with 70,000 people in a stadium. Other performers can do it on a smaller scale. At the Opry, it is always interesting to see the difference between the singers and the entertainers. The entertainers are the ones who have mastered that ability to connect with their audience.

You can really see a contrast?

I see a difference, yeah. I’m very fortunate to have the unique perspective of standing in the wings on a Grand Ole Opry show because I am able to witness 60 or 70 years of (country) music across 15 performers. It really gives me a clear perspective on who connects and who doesn’t. it’s not because of the skills that I have. It’s is just the unique nature and format of the Grand Ole Opry. It travels through time so to speak. The performances opportunities range from one song to three songs typically.

Artists have to nail a performance quickly.

They have to pull that audience in quickly. But, the power of those songs and those performers is the way that connection is achieved.

Will we ever have someone impact with audiences like Hank Williams Sr. again?

I think we will. Jamey Johnson is a great example of an artist who is just as raw and as true and as real as it gets.

[Johnson received three Grammy Award nominations at the 51st Grammy Awards held on February 8, 2009: Best Country Album for “That Lonesome Song” on Mercury Nashville Records; and Best Country Song and Best Male Country Vocal Performance for "In Color” which won the Academy of Country Music's 2009 award for Song of the Year.]

How can you drive artist member’s participation?

One obvious way is to pick up the phone or shoot off an email. Another way is to focus on upgrading production values. We have done a very good job of upgrading the audio, video and scenic quality of the show. Even though we still hold true to the Opry’s iconic barn image, it’s a barn that transitions nicely, I think, from a traditional to a contemporary look. We hired Steve Gibson as our music director and consultant several years ago and hired George Massenburg to help us explore how we could deliver audio in a consistently high quality. I think we have come a long way there.

[In 2005, the Opry hired Steve Gibson, a well-known session guitarist and local studio owner in Nashville, as a music and creative consultant to help plan its audio systems upgrades. Also hired on was George Massenburg, a mixing and mastering engineer and a record producer as well as an audio systems developer.

As a result, a new FOH console was installed, a 64-input ATI Paragon II with recall faders and assignable soft keys feeding a flown JBL Vertech PA system. In the broadcast control room, a 104-channel, 48kHz Euphonix System 5 console replaced an aging V Series desk.]

Still, today’s country stars have more career commitments than ever.

Absolutely. When you take the normal touring calendar of an artist as well as their radio (station) appearances; appearances required to help nurture relationships with sponsors; working with the online community; and take out the studio time and, hopefully, a week or two of vacation time, you suddenly have spent the entire year.

We keep very close tabs on artists’ availability. Our talent manager Gina Keltner daily checks (performance) schedules to pursue opportunities for artist appearances at the Opry. What we have found is that artists are continuing to maintain their healthy touring activity but the requirements of sustaining music at radio involves a lot of their time as well.

What has been the impact this year of not having a weekly TV platform for the Grand Ole Opry?

Currently, we are on a hiatus from producing our television program. The show, from 2002 to the middle of this year, was carried on Great America Country. We hope to return in the early part of 2010 with some new live episodes.

Was it economics that forced the TV program off the air?

Our decision was principally centered around economic issues. How the economy has impacted television networks and their programming budgets. But we are currently meeting with our sponsors and having some really productive conversations. We do plan to bring the Opry back to the air on TV.

[Television broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry have been carried on weekends on the Great American Country (GAC) cable network since 2002. Previously, Viacom's Country Music Television (CMT) broadcast the shows on most weekends for two years. CMT, the successor to the Nashville Network (TNN), was founded by Gaylord Broadcasting before it was sold to CBS cable, then a division of Westinghouse in 1997.]

The TV heyday of the Grand Ole Opry was in the early ‘90s when it played on TNN and was boosted in cross-support from CMT.

Of course, during those days Gaylord Entertainment owned both networks. That obviously played into the (exposure) equation as well. As we changed our television platforms from TNN to CMT to GAC, the audience delivery expectations changed. We found GAC to be quite a good fit given that their target demo is a 25 to 54 audience which is much more compatible with an Opry audience than say an 18 to 49 or an 18 to 34 demo.

What has been the impact of not having TV in attracting artists to appear on the Opry?

Artist participation has remained high. We have had appearances by Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, and Reba McEntire, and several appearances by Carrie Underwood. So television really is not the sole reason why artists want to play the Grand Ole Opry.

In 2007, classic country star Stonewall Jackson, then 74, sued you and the Grand Ole Opry for age discrimination. He claimed you said to him, "I don't want any gray hairs on that stage or in the audience, and before I'm done there won't be any," and, "You're too old and too country."

I know the issue with Jackson was resolved but was it personally hurtful to have those kind of allegations out there?

I really am not going to comment on that other than say we’re happy that it is resolved. From the moment he alleged those comments, I vehemently denied them. I never said anything like that.

[Jackson, a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1956, filed a federal age-discrimination suit in January, 2007 that sought $10 million in punitive damages and another $10 million in compensatory damages against Gaylord Entertainment, the Opry’s owner, and Fisher. In addition to age discrimination, the suit also included breach of contract and retaliation allegations, with Jackson claiming his Opry appearances had steadily declined since Fisher’s hiring. Jackson settled the lawsuit Oct. 3, 2008, in U.S. District Court in Nashville, Tenn. The settlement terms have not been disclosed.]

You came to Tennessee in 1995 to go to school?

I finished my degree in music business at MTSU (Middle Tennessee State University (in Murfreesboro, Tennessee). For the most part I grew up in Rockville, Maryland. I went through my school years outside of Washington, D.C. Then I went to Towson University (in Baltimore) to study trumpet. After helping my folks move to Chicago I discovered MTSU. I came down to the school sight unseen about 5 weeks after I first heard of it.

Studying trumpet, how come you didn’t’ end up in Blood Sweat & Tears or Chicago?

It had something to do with the lips. The thing about trumpet is that if you don’t put the horn to your mouth a couple of hours a day, you won’t like what it sounds like. I think I met my limit in trumpet in my latter years of university where my playing ability peaked. I look back, and (from playing trumpet) I hold a tremendous respect for musicians.

That kind of respect starts with an early educational grounding doesn’t it?

It really does. And through those years I was also very active in audio engineering, concert lighting and things like that. Much of what I do at the Opry incorporates a lot of those skill I developed in those years.

Did you play in bands?

I played trumpet mostly in high school and university affiliated bands and an occasional pit orchestras for musicals. One of my last performances was as part of the Tower of Powder horn section in Bad Art, the Warner Bros. (in-house) band that was formed in the late ‘80s. We put together this fun band and competed against a few other label bands to raise money for charities. Bob Saporiti (then senior VP of marketing at Warner/Reprise Nashville) was our lead singer.

[Under the moniker Reckless Johnny Wales, Saporiti has since released the album "It's Not About the Money..." on Kinkajou Records.]

You worked at Warner Nashville?

I interned at Warner Bros. coming out of Middle Tennessee State. They had a publishing company WarnerSongs (a joint-venture between Warner/Reprise Records and Warner/Chappell Music). Jim Ed Norman ran the label and Tim Wipperman (executive V.P./ executive G.M. at Warner /Chappell Music) ran the publishing company. Randy Talmadge hired me. When Randy moved to RCA with Josh Leo in the A&R department, Jim Ed asked me to run the (publishing) company. I did so until 1994. In early ’95, I moved into artist management.

Warners had quite a presence in Nashville at the time.

I didn’t realize how valuable of an opportunity that was at the time. I loved it but, in looking back, I realize that (working at Warners) played such an important part of the perspective I have. It was a magical time at Warners. Dwight Yoakam, and Randy Travis were there. Hank William Jr. released “Born To Boogie” and Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt released the “Trio” album. That what was going on with less than 20 people at that record company. It really was magical. The spirit of (Warners’ senior management) Mo Ostin and Lenny Warnoker was very much alive in Nashville at that time. We knew when they left (in 1994) that things were changing in a really fundamental way. But I treasure the years I worked with Jim Ed Norman.

It was a really interesting blend of artists there.

Yes, the primary purpose of the (publishing) company was developing writers and pitching songs, but being based at a record company also afforded me the opportunity to do some A&R coordination and projects like (with) Take 6 and Beth Nielsen Chapman. Even pop artist Jill Sobule was signed to our production company. We had her signed to MCA and we made a record with Todd Rundgren producing (her debut album “Things Here Are Different” released in1990) and with Joe Jackson (the album wasn’t released).

What took you over to the dark side… artist management?

I was approached by Dan Raines who had a lot of success as a contemporary Christian manager. He had Creative Trust which managed Stephen Curtis Chapman and producer Brown Bannister. Dan and I started talking about adding a country division. I made a decision that it was time to take a turn in my career. I never imagined being in artist management but I really learned a lot. I brought in (Canadian singer) Paul Brandt and Marcus Hummon at the same time. And I managed another Canadian, Carolyn Arends. Those are extraordinary artists. Dan and I later formed a partnership, and started Fisher Raines Management.

[Dan Raines started Creative Trust in 1988 after working in various parts of the industry for a decade. in Los Angeles, he worked with Pat Boone and daughter Debby in their production and publishing companies. In the early '80s, he moved to Nashville, and became VP of Word Records. In the 1990s, Raines formed RBI Entertainment, a music publishing joint venture with Bannister that developed a catalog of songs recorded by Babyface, Garth Brooks, Cher, Diamond Rio, Amy Grant, Wynonna, and Tricia Yearwood.]

Over the years the Grand Ole Opry has been presented in a variety of locations, most notably at Carnegie Hall in New York in conjunction with the Opry’s 80th birthday.

We have also presented at other venues such as the Kennedy Centre (in New York), The Greek Theatre (Los Angeles), and Wolftrap (Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.). We have also explored the Opry in a touring configuration called “Grand Ole Opry American Road Show” with Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Del McCoury, and Rebecca Lynn Howard; and with Marty Stuart, Dierks Bentley and others. We would like to bring the Opry to other significant performance halls in the United States, and internationally as well. Next year is the Opry’s 85th anniversary and we hope to do a couple of performances outside of Nashville.

Country acts don’t generally tour overseas on a regular basis. There are exceptions like Keith Urban and Martina McBride.

Who knows what the future holds in that regard? I tend to think that there are always going to be a certain category of artists who want to make that international commitment. A lot of the reason is because they have a more worldly perspective on their place in the world.

An international commitment requires not only the commitment of the artist and their management team but also the (booking) agency, the record label and all those who have to support those efforts. In the early ‘90s, there was a renewed focus on international development (in country) as labels were really doing well and could dedicate resources in that direction. Today, it’s tougher to do that given the economics.

You have had the most eclectic list of visitors backstage at Opry shows over the years.

Every sitting American president has visited the Grand Ole Opry since Richard Nixon. We have extended an invitation to President Obama and the First Lady when we were at the White House a couple of months ago. We co-produced ”Country At The White House” with GAC that featured Charlie Pride, Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss and Union Station performing in the east Room of the White House.

Larry LeBlanc was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, the London Times and the New York Times.

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