As the Grand Ole Opry enters its tenth decade, America’s longest-running live radio show continues to spotlight country-music tradition and also welcomes contemporary performers who grace its iconic stage week after week. On March 8th, the Opry celebrates the release of the second in a series of projects spotlighting new country artists who will make several visits throughout the show during its 90th anniversary year. Opry 9.0, Vol I1: Discoveries From the Circle will include memorable live Opry performances from Chris Janson, Lindsay Ell and Mo Pitney.
A native of Cherry Valley, Illinois, Mo Pitney learned to play drums by age 6 and was studying guitar (with a broken arm) before he reached his teens. In much the same way he immersed himself in country-music history, he went on to become proficient in the more demanding and intricate style of bluegrass playing, devoting four years to studying it before rededicating his efforts to become well-versed in all things country. That dedication is something the unapologetic traditionalist addressed in his single “Country,” which he wrote with Opry mainstay Bill Anderson and acclaimed writer Bobby Tomberlin. The three writers represent three different generations of country-music devotees but found a like mind not only in the music but in the life experiences that go into making an individual someone who identifies as “country,” no matter where they were raised. Yet, one of the most inescapable connections for country fans of all eras is the acts who come before them as their influences and who will follow in their footsteps, which became the central question of a 1985 hit Pitney has performed on the Grand Ole Opry in tribute to many of his musical heroes.
“Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes,” written by future Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame members Max D. Barnes and Troy Seals and sung by George Jones, invoked the names of numerous performers, some of whom had passed on, others who were still living at the time, but all of whom had made invaluable contributions to country music or had an influence on music at the time. Jones delivered a memorable vocal (and his first music video) that left listeners with little wonder about his own legacy, although he would go on to record and perform for another 28 years. Pitney’s affinity for the song and its sentiment are obvious, which explains in part why inspiration struck so quickly on the day he first met Anderson.
“We spent half the day talking about just life in country music,” Pitney tells Rolling Stone Country. “What country music was what we thought it was and what it meant to us. We talked about Bill’s long life and my short life and Bobby’s medium life and how even with all the age difference we were all pointed to the same artists. I know I’m an old soul and I always lean towards the older artists: Ray Price, Buck Owens, Roger Miller, Merle Haggard. Not only just saying I like Merle Haggard but studying his music. Bill knew Ray Price, he knew Roger Miller, he knew Johnny Cash. He said, ‘Do you know what the common thread was with all those guys?’ They sang about real life, something with heart, something that meant something. They had a steel guitar and fiddle on the record and they had country melodies. That’s what country music was.”
Pitney’s faithful rendition of “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes” is joined on the Opry 9.0 EP by the heartbreaking ballad “Clean Up on Aisle Five,” which beautifully answers the former song’s title question. The set also includes live versions of Chris Janson’s platinum-selling single, “Buy Me a Boat,” and “Holdin’ Her,” both from his 2015 debut LP, along with a pair of tunes from accomplished Canadian-born blues, rock and country guitar slinger Lindsay Ell, who was discovered at age 13 by rock superstar Randy Bachman (BTO, the Guess Who), and made her Opry debut in April 2014. See the EP’s full track listing below.
In addition to their scheduled Opry performances, each of the artists will make in-store appearances at the Opry Shop in the Grand Ole Opry House, greeting fans and sign copies of the EP. Janson and Ell will perform on the EP’s release day, March 8th, followed by a visit to the Opry Shop after that night’s show. Pitney and Ell perform and appear at an in-store signing on March 25th. The EP will be available at the Opry’s four retail locations in Nashville, and online at digital retailers and www.opry.com.
Here’s the Opry 9.0, Vol. II: Discoveries From the Circle track listing:
1. Chris Janson, “Buy Me a Boat”
2. Chris Janson, “Holdin’ Her”
3. Lindsay Ell, “All Alright”
4. Lindsay Ell, “Criminal
5. Mo Pitney, “Clean Up on Aisle Five”
6. Mo Pitney, “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes”