Brad Paisley was obviously delighted to be the one to induct Chris Young on Tuesday night into the Grand Ole Opry – among country’s highest honors – but earlier in the day, Paisley wasn’t about to let it go to his friend’s head. At least not just yet.
After Young texted to say how much he appreciated Paisley for “wanting to be the one to induct me,” country’s jokester couldn’t resist.
“Yeah, man,” Paisley texted back. “I called the Opry two or three times but I couldn’t get them to change their minds, so I figured I might as well show up.”
Young, 32, laughed as he told the story backstage just moments before his induction. “Brad just brought me back to reality perfectly,” he said.
And yet it still was a pretty perfect reality.
Young’s induction at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry House was the culmination of a lifetime of idolizing one of country’s most hallowed institutions. Some of Young’s earliest memories, at age 4 or 5, were listening to the Opry on the radio. His beloved grandfather deepened Young’s passion for the Opry stars’ music with his collection of 45- and 78-rpm records. Growing up in nearby Murfreesboro, Young started attending the Opry by the time he turned 7 or 8. Once as a boy, he got Little Jimmy Dickens to notice him from his seat. Another time, he presented Loretta Lynn with flowers.
Cliches were made just for moments like this: Becoming an Opry member really was Young’s dream come true.
“Is there anything that I feel like I could put over this for relevance and the amount of how big an honor it is to be asked to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry?” Young asked during a press conference, then answered: “No.”
The big moment finally arrived during the show’s last segment. But first he had to perform, and for two of his five songs, he veered dramatically from his set list to pay homage to the history-making moment: He delivered the Marty Robbins classic “Devil Woman” – with a surprising touch of falsetto – in honor of his grandfather, who was seated in the audience. Another choice, “When You Say Nothing at All,” paid homage to Keith Whitley, “one of my favorite artists, pretty much of all time.”
Paisley, 44, was still in a teasing mood when he finally took the stage for the formal induction.
“Raise your right hand … repeat after me,” he deadpanned.
Young was momentarily flummoxed. “Just kidding,” Paisley said, flashing a smile. “We don’t actually do that.”
The Opry member effortlessly switched gears to welcome Young into the Opry family. “Chris is one of those people that will make the most of this,” he told the crowd, and then to Young: “You are a great guy. I say that with all my heart. You folks probably only have had the pleasure of meeting him or watching him on TV. You may not know him that well, but this is a great human being. That’s what the Opry needs.”
Membership, Paisley explained, means “you will have a home on this stage the rest of your life. You can come out and sing any song you want to sing, and we will be so proud to have you here.”
“I love you,” Paisley added, “and I can’t wait, for you to be – I guess I get to say this … Chris Young is the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry.”
Young took the trophy, topped with a small microphone, and pressed it to his lips as the crowd stood and cheered. When words finally came, they were brief. “I don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to say – something not stupid, probably,” Young said. “So it’s the two best words I can think of … ‘thank you.’”
During a commercial break, Young rushed the trophy to his mom, Becky Harris, who was seated in one of the pews at the back of the stage, handing it to her for safekeeping. She clutched it and wept as she watched her son joyfully belt out one last song, “Think of You,” with duet partner Cassadee Pope.
Once the curtain fell, a bounty of hugs, congratulations and photo-taking awaited Young, but there was still one more formality: affixing a small plaque, engraved with his name, among the others on display at the artists’ entrance backstage.
Beaming, Young took a screwdriver and twisted in the two screws, then stood to soak in the fact that his name now resides among Dickens’ and Lynn’s and all the rest. He took one hand and softly stroked his name a few times. Yes, he really was a member of the Grand Ole Opry.