It is the ultimate achievement for anyone who plays bluegrass and country music: to play the Grand Ole Opry. The Grand Ole Opry is not only “The Show That Made Country Music Famous,” but is where bluegrass a as a genre was born in the mid-forties. To be able to step into the historic Opry circle where Bill Monroe stood seventy years ago, and bring one’s music to a packed Opry house and millions of listeners on “The Air Castle of the South,” WSM AM650 and wsmonline.com, is as big as it gets for our kind of music. For one young band, this dream became a reality this past weekend.
Flatt Lonesome has been one of the hottest bands in bluegrass since they burst onto the scene just a few years ago. After being named “Emerging Artist of the Year” at last year’s IBMA Awards Show, the band has had a very memorable 2015, including receiving two 2015 IBMA noms for Vocal Group of the Year and Album of the Year (for 2014’s successful, Too), and the announcement of their third album, Runaway Train, which will be released October 2nd. Their whirlwind of a year came to a head last Saturday, as the band made their long-awaited Opry debut. Here is their account of the day their dreams came true.
Saturday, August 29th, 2015
Paul Harrigill wakes up, looks at the clock, and decides to go back to sleep. Today was a big day, and he would need his rest.
Paul Harrigill wakes up, for real this time.
Michael Stockton feels as if he is nine years old and it is Christmas morning. The only difference is that he wanted Santa Claus to bring him a toy army set for only a few months, and he has been dreaming of playing the Grand Ole Opry for his entire life. For the rest of the day, he would be getting waves of different emotions. He would be feeling fine for a while and not nervous. Out of the blue though, the magnitude of the day would hit him again, and he would be nervous for a while, before, once again, being back to normal for a while. This roller coaster ride would continue all day long.
Dominic Illingworth is getting a haircut in Murfreesboro, TN. He knows he has to look sharp for his big day! It’s still hard to comprehend that he is actually having a conversation with his hairdresser about Flatt Lonesome getting to play the Grand Ole Opry! As a fan and follower of the band, of course his hairdresser is very excited for him and the band. Dominic is also happy that his girlfriend, Samantha, was able to make the trip from Ohio to join him for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He knew that being able to spend the rest of the day with her, would calm any nervousness he still had.
Buddy Robertson is eating breakfast at one of the most luxurious hotels in the world. Later today, Buddy; his twin sister, Charli Robertson (fiddle); older sister, Kelsi Robertson-Harrigill (mandolin); brother-in-law, Paul Harrigill (banjo); and two best friends, Michael Stockton (dobro) and Dominic Illingworth (bass) will be making their Grand Ole Opry debut, a dream all six of them have held since they were children. While he was eating breakfast at the Opryland hotel surrounded by his family, it felt as if time was dragging along as his mind kept thinking about what he would be doing later that day.
Paul Harrigill and his wife, Kelsi, are spending the morning at their Murfreesboro apartment with Paul’s parents, who had made the trip from Louisiana for the big day. Although it seemed like a normal Saturday morning with the eating of breakfast and changing of instrument strings, today was definitely no ordinary Saturday. Kelsi is sitting on the couch texting her best friend, Kristen, whom she so desperately wishes would be with her on her big day. Before too long, there is a knock on the door, something which the young couple is not accustomed to on a Saturday morning. Paul, with hair standing straight up and pajamas turned in to shorts, answers the door. It was Kristen! Kelsi’s sneaky snake sister, Charli had worked out a top secret plan for Kristen to surprise Kelsi on the most important day of her career! After smiles, hugs, and lots of laughs, the girls begin helping Kelsi prepare for the big day. Kristen would be the sole reason Kelsi would be able to “keep it together” in spite of the nerves and excitement leading up to the big night.
Charli Robertson is on the way to get a spray tan. She has been batting the idea around in her head for the past day or so, and she is finally on the way to get one… maybe. Too worried about how her legs might look against her dark dress on the Opry stage tonight, she thinks a spray tan may be just the trick. She has been thinking about this night non-stop for over a month, and it was just a few hours away. She still couldn’t decide whether she was going to be nervous or not, just like she still couldn’t decide whether she was actually going to go through with this spray tan idea or not. She ultimately decided against the spray tan, as horrific images raced through her mind of people thinking there was something wrong with her if for some reason this brilliant idea didn’t turn out. A much more suitable replacement to put her mind at ease would be going to Starbucks for her beloved coffee. That always fixed everything. She knows this for sure.
Buddy Robertson and his family are at the Bass Pro Shops at Opry Mills. An avid fisherman, one would assume that Buddy would be like a kid in a candy store, especially considering that it was his first time in this temple to all things bass-fishing. For one of the few times in his life, Buddy actually is having trouble focusing on fishing; his first time on the Grand Ole Opry stage supersedes any inaugural trip to Bass Pro Shops. His mind was far removed from the busy Opry Mills store, as all he could do was think about what would be happening later that night.
Paul, Kelsi, and company begin getting ready for the big night. They were going to change clothes at the Opry, so all they were gathering up everything they would need for the evening and checking things off of their list. Paul is waiting on Kelsi to finally give up the bathroom, so he can shower (“Story of my life…” he thinks to himself). While waiting, he sits down and begins changing the strings on his banjo and guitar. He feels so honored to be able to play his dad’s Martin guitar on the Opry stage tonight.
Dominic and his girlfriend, Samantha, are on the way to the Opry. It was finally beginning to set in: in a few hours, he would be playing on the Grand Ole Opry. The nerves were starting to kick in. Thankfully, he had Samantha with him. She start calmly talking to him and telling him how he was going to do great, and was able to calm him down and set his mind at ease.
Buddy and his parents arrive backstage at the Opry before everyone else. He knows he was supposed to get there at 6:30, but he couldn’t help it. He had been dressed for a couple of hours already, and he and his dad had already gotten coffee; he was running out of things to occupy his time. After finding the dressing room Flatt Lonesome had been assigned for the evening, he walks out onto the historic Opry stage. The auditorium was empty, but the experience was still humbling just the same. He stands in the Opry circle with his parents, thinks about all of the hard work he and the band had put in over the years, and cried.
Paul and Kelsi arrive backstage at the Grand Ole Opry. They pass the security guards, and are still trying to process that their names were on a list of performers for the night. As they pull into the parking lot, the reality of what Kelsi was about to do began to set in… She couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. Paul sat with her and held her hand. “I need just a minute,” she says. These are tears for years of dreams and hard work becoming reality, tears of humility, honor, excitement, nervousness and so much thankfulness! She and Paul pray together before getting out of the car — thanking God for all His wonderful blessings. They ask for grace; for courage to walk out on the same stage as so many of our heroes had done; and they, once again, thanked Him.
The band is all gathered in the parking lot backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, surrounded by friends and family. After gawking at the “Grand Ole Opry Artist Entrance” sign (“I’ll never get tired of that sight!” thinks Kelsi.) the band walks backstage, signs in, and heads to dressing room #10 — the “Friends & Neighbors” room — where they found a bouquet of flowers from some dear friends, congratulating them for this major accomplishment.
After setting his stuff down in the dressing room, Michael heads to the Opry stage. The magnitude of what he was about to do really hit him hard for the first time as he walks out onto the stage for the first time as an artist. The curtains are closed, and there are tech people running around like crazy preparing for the show. He looks around the stage, marveling at how big it is, how much gear is on the stage, and how many people had a hand in the production of the show of which he was about to part, for the first time.
As a way to loosen up, calm the nerves, and have some fun, the band gets out their instruments and begins jamming in the dressing room. After practicing one of their new songs which they will be performing tonight (You’re The One), they tear into one of their favorite Del McCoury songs, Rain and Snow. The young band’s energy causes a small crowd to gather outside of their open dressing room, many of whom are taking photos and videos with their phones. Even in the midst of new country, fresh bluegrass will always be welcome at the Grand Ole Opry.
Flatt Lonesome’s dressing room jam still continues, and catches the ear of Charles Esten, star of the hit television drama, Nashville. The actor, who has appeared on not only Nashville, but on Whose Line Is It Anyway? and The Office, listens to the band tear into Flatt & Scruggs’ Sleep With One Eye Open, and smiles for a while, before being ushered into the dressing room for a photo op. He shakes hands with the band, congratulates them, and shares some words of wisdom before telling them to get back to pickin’!