When a young, terrified Loretta Lynn walked onto the stage at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry for the first time in 1960, she took her first steps toward launching a career that continues to flourish today. Lynn has referred to that event as the best moment in her life. It's a moment that has been shared by many country music superstars. In nine decades of existence as a clearly defined genre, country has survived numerous fads. But the people's music -- most clearly defined by its sense of tradition -- may now be facing its biggest challenge ever: time.
Like the rest of us, country's legendary artists are getting older. They are facing not only their own mortality, but youthful competition in an industry that thrives on record sales and concert performances. Older artists find it harder to do those grueling tours, and their radio hits are less frequent. Every artist approaches this point in his or her career differently. Some, like Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson, take creative chances while continuing to celebrate their past achievements.
But many of country's legendary artists choose to rest on their laurels, having done little to expand. Apparently, many thought the Grand Ole Opry would provide them a safe retirement haven. There, they would coast through their final years in the comfort and familiarity of Nashville's best-known weekend event. Show up on Friday and Saturday nights, perform their "signature" songs, and return home before midnight. It would have been a nice ride into the sunset, they must've imagined.
Alas, things changed. The country industry boomed in the early 1990s and a new crop of young artists emerged, more likely to follow the business model of rock than country. As revenues increased, so did the demands of the fans. And the Opry management made adjustments to address their desires. As a result, hot new acts were allowed to perform on the Opry without paying the dues expected in the past. As Opry attendance increased, the old-timers saw their face time decrease.
In January 2007, Opry member Stonewall Jackson filed a $10 million age-discrimination lawsuit against Opry general manager Pete Fisher and Gaylord Entertainment Co. An active member of the Opry since 1956, 75-year-old Jackson contends that Fisher reduced the amount of stage time for the Opry's older performers in order to allow younger up-and-coming acts to perform. This shift has resulted in a loss of income for Jackson and others. And, according to Opry member Charlie Louvin, it also led to a loss of health insurance. To date, the case is still pending.
Lynn, now 73, found a whole new audience when she collaborated with the White Stripes' Jack White on 2004's Grammy-winning Van Lear Rose. She continues to tour regularly. The 74-year-old Nelson hasn't slowed down either. He tours endlessly, and recently released a double album of classic songs with his peers Merle Haggard (70) and Ray Price (81), appropriately titled Last of the Breed. The trio is currently touring in support of the album and earning rave reviews.
While opinions vary regarding the best way to resolve the programming issues at the Opry, some artists challenge the organization to compromise. "It takes a balancing act to make it work," notes Bill Anderson, an Opry member since 1961. "There are some magical moments when the old and young artists combine their talents." Relative newcomer Brad Paisley (inducted in 2001) says, "[The Opry] is the best thing in the world. We need to preserve it, and I take it upon myself to preserve that tradition."
Perhaps the issue is best summed up by developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, who theorized the inherent conflict that occurs within eight stages of life. For those over 65, the struggle is integrity vs. despair – the desired goal being to accept responsibility for one's life, and to be fulfilled and satisfied with the outcome. While respecting tradition is a good thing, one should never stop growing. It's OK to look back, but it's just as important to keep looking forward – even when, as Willie Nelson sang in his 1971 classic, you're "aging with time like yesterday's wine."
Killin it. So damn sexy
ooooohhhh, I'm so excited!! I can't wait to see them together!
come on man you know you got a bromance. you probably still rock that OutKast…