It’s one of the highest honors that can be bestowed on a country artist, to be invited to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry cast. And the moment that it happens is usually as magical for the presenter as it is for the recipient.
Yes, magical. That’s the exact word that Keith Urban used when he invited “Buy Me A Boat” and “Drunk Girl” singer Chris Janson to become the newest Opry member.
Chris was performing on the revered stage of Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium Feb. 5 when his longtime pal, Keith, joined him on the stage to pick a tune. This is hardly unusual in country music, as the Opry often hosts impromptu picking parties by the artists who are performing that night. Sometimes it’s backstage and, for the lucky folks in the audience that night, sometimes it happens onstage.
It was happening onstage immediately as Keith and Chris faced off in an epic guitar versus harmonica battle with John Michael Montgomery’s “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident).”
Yes, that had hands clapping, toes tapping, boots stomping and voices singing along, but it’s what happened next that had tears falling.
Keith stopped the show and addressed his fellow singer-songwriter. “This is a really magical night,” he began. “Chris, we’ve known each other 13, 14 years at least. So to see this guy come from slugging it out in the clubs playing night after night after night, the real deal, 24/7, living and breathing music, to have a sold-out show at the Ryman, Chris? That’s amazing.”
Keith continued, “And it’s fitting that it should be at the Ryman because it is one of the homes of the Grand Ole Opry, of which I am a member … And I remember the feeling the night that I got invited [to join]. It’s an incredible feeling, and I think it’s about time you feel that way, too, Chris. I’d like to invite you, Chris Janson, to become the newest member of our family at the Grand Ole Opry.”
Obviously overwhelmed by emotion, Chris passed out hugs to almost everyone onstage, including wife Kelly and Keith.
After a solid minute of applause, Chris raised his hands triumphantly then took the microphone to speak. Obviously emotional, he said, “I just want you to know, I meant what I said about the Opry earlier at the beginning of the show, because that’s where my heart is. I would die before I just had to quit singing country music. I don’t know nothing else. That’s it.”
Chris’ voice broke as he exclaimed, “Oh my God,” then he asked for a guitar and ripped through Merle Haggard’s “Footlights.”
Following his show, Chris told the Opry, “This is the greatest achievement of my life and it’s all I ever wanted. It’s still all I ever want, and after the official induction, it will still be the only thing I ever want, it means that much to me.”
Chris,who has performed at the Opry more than 100 times, is next scheduled to play there on Feb. 20, but his formal induction will not take place until later this spring.