NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Everyone from Whisperin' Bill Anderson to Chris Young will take the Grand Ole Opry stage Saturday night, for a grand ole party. They're celebrating a record 5,000 Saturday night performances for the show that made country music famous.
Just about every country star you can think of has sung inside the famous circle and announcer Keith Bilbrey has introduced a lot of them. "Saturday was the big night and once you made it to Saturday, you had made it," said Bilbrey.
But before his big break, he was just a local kid with a dream. "'Well son, what are you going to do when you grow up?' This was in Cookeville. I said, 'well I’m going to be an announcer for the Grand Ole Opry.' I’ll never forget, he turned around and looked at me and said, 'you know what, I think you will,'" remembered Bilbrey.
For 34 years, Bilbrey rubbed shoulders with everyone from Johnny and June Cash to President Bill Clinton. And that, Bilbrey says, is the aura of the Grand Ole Opry. "I’ve seen people that have become big stars that never dreamed they’d stand on that stage. And they do, and they draw crowds and they sell tickets and they sell, well I started to say records, but that’s very out of date," he said.
Remarkably, the Opry has never gone out of date which is why they're making history. "Then of course, at 7 p.m. the curtain goes up on our 5,000th Saturday night broadcast," said Dan Roger, vice president and executive producer of the Grand Ole Opry.
Five-thousand Saturday night shows is really something, especially when you think about all that's happened since 1925. "In 1968 was the last time we know of that an Opry show was canceled in terms of the live show. But I will say, even a re-air was played so people could still sit down and listen to the Grand Ole Opry that night," said Roger.
The 1968 cancellation was because Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and then-Nashville Mayor Beverly Brilley issued a city-wide curfew.
Even during the 2010 floods and the ongoing pandemic, the music never stopped. "The past 20 months or so, no one saw coming including all those weeks without a live audience but we’re here and incredibly excited and thankful for 5,000 Saturday nights," said Roger.
That's proof enough for Bilbrey that the Opry's circle will never go unbroken. "When they talk about an Opry family, it really was," he said.
As you might expect, tickets to that 5,000th show are pretty expensive, but the Opry is also hosting a big party out on its plaza that is free and open to the public.