Wyatt Ellis – 13 year old mandolinist on the Grand Ole Opry

Wyatt Ellis on The Opry with Daily & Vincent – photo by Eric Ahlgrim

At age 13, Wyatt Ellis has already checked the top item off his bucket list, performing before a live audience at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, TN.

The young mandolinist explained, “I’m a big fan of Dailey & Vincent. Jamie and Darrin are two of my favorite bluegrass vocalists. I’ve been social media friends with Jamie, and interacted with him a little over the past two years. He had seen videos of my playing, started following me and encouraging me.”

A couple weeks ago, Wyatt was in an online lesson with Bobby Osborne, when an unexpected message came through on Instagram.

The message read: “Hi, Wyatt. Darrin Vincent and I would like to extend an invitation to you to come play with our band on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, Feb 10 or 11. It would be 2-3 songs. Would this be something you would enjoy doing? All my best, Jamie.”

Wyatt immediately replied to the message. “I’d be honored to. I could do either or both.”

“I was shocked and so excited. I told Bobby. Bobby said, ‘You don’t miss that!’

I’d always dreamed that I might get to do what my hero, Marty Stuart, had at age thirteen when he played the Opry as part of Lester Flatt’s band. I’d just about given up on it.”

The young musical prodigy was soon invited to play, not just for a single tune, but as part of the band for both nights. 

“It was like being a real part of Dailey & Vincent. I showed up and we ran through what we were going to play. It was so cool, a great experience,” Wyatt beamed.

For the Friday night Opry, Wyatt arrived perfectly attired in Bill Emerson’s boots, which had been entrusted to him from the Emerson family, and Buddy Spicher’s neck scarf, a gift from Scott Napier.

“There was a lot of history in that outfit,” his mom proudly stated.

Wyatt’s mandolin skills were highlighted on the third tune each night. Ellis, who had set a goal early in the pandemic to learn every Bill Monroe tune ever written, selected two Monroe standards for his instrumentals: Wheel Hoss for Friday night, and Rawhide for Saturday. 

On Friday, Jenee Fleenor kicked off the high-energy instrumental. Wyatt and the four-time CMA Musician of the Year closed out the tune playing mandolin and fiddle in unison.

 “I was thrilled to be playing alongside such a legendary fiddler,” Wyatt shared.

Wyatt returned to the Opry stage on Saturday night with Dailey & Vincent. Unfortunately, his microphone failed to work properly during the first two songs so the audience failed to truly hear his picking. Dailey noted the problem and the situation was quickly resolved. 

While the mic was being exchanged before the final number, Dailey said to Wyatt, “It’s your second time on the Grand Ole Opry, you gotta make it count! You’ve gotta burn it down. All right, Wyatt, are you ready?!”

With that, Wyatt flew into a rousing rendition of Rawhide. After his first break, the crowd erupted in applause and by the end of the tune, the Maryville, TN youth received a standing ovation. 

“It was such an emotional situation, with the microphone not working. I was nervous for him, but he didn’t show it affected him at all,” said his mother.

Darrin Vincent shared, “We were honored to have Wyatt Ellis debut at the Grand Ole Opry, and the packed audience sure loved him by giving him a standing ovation after performing the Bill Monroe standard classic, Rawhide.”

Trent Callicutt, banjoist for D&V that weekend, said, “Wyatt is a great player! It’s easy to see that he’s firmly rooted in Monroe-style mandolin, but he puts his own spin on it! It was a treat to be on his Opry debut with him. He killed it!”

Back stage, Wyatt jammed nightly with Grand Ole Opry member, Vince Gill. The multi-Grammy winner left his door open for this very purpose. Gill acknowledged that the late Roy Acuff maintained an open door policy and an open circle which is part of the magic of the Opry. 

On Friday night, the pair was joined by fellow former child prodigy, Mark O’Connor. It was a magical moment as Vince and Mark showcased their musical friendship that had begun half a century ago when Mark made his own childhood Opry debut.

Gill later shared in a phone interview, “In my 50 years in music, I see the same thing in Wyatt Ellis that I saw in Marty Stuart, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, Tony Rice, and Sierra Hull. He has that natural talent.”

When asked if Wyatt will be the next big thing in bluegrass, Gill replied, “He already is.”

So, for a young man who’s only been seriously picking the mandolin since age 10, already appeared twice on the Grand Ole Opry at age 13, and will soon release his first album of all original music with many of his heroes, where do you go from here?

Wyatt’s response, “I would like to personally debut on the Grand Ole Opry when my album is released! It’s all original music. I’ve got a lot of legends and heroes on my side! So maybe we can pull it off?”

Share this:

About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.