First, Gill talked Young into switching sets with him on the Grand Ole Opry Tuesday night so that Young would go last. And now, after Young, 32, had sung three songs in his four-song set, here was Gill wandering out on stage, interrupting his performance.
But all this weird behavior was explained soon enough when Gill asked Young “if you’ll be the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry.”
Stunned and speechless, Young grabbed the 60-year-old Gill in a bear hug and lifted him off the ground as the sell-out crowd filled Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry House with cheers. Putting the big man down, Young then paced the stage, trying to compose himself, finally dropping to his knees, touching one hand to his lips and placing the kiss on the Opry’s hallowed stage-center circle – the same boards once occupied by such legends as Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash.
And still Young hadn’t answered Gill’s question, so he asked it again: “Will you?”
“Yes, 100 percent, yes!” Young responded with an ear-to-ear grin.
Though Young has performed at the Opry since 2006, being invited to be a member is one of country music’s most coveted honors. Only about 60 artists claim current membership, and Young now becomes the Opry’s youngest.
No one understood the importance of the moment more than Young, who regularly attended the Opry as a boy growing up in nearby Murfreesboro. When he couldn’t be there in person, he listened to the show on the radio.
“I gave flowers to Loretta Lynn,” Young said, recalling childhood Opry moments after the Tuesday show. “At least one time that I know, I got Little Jimmy Dickens to notice me in the crowd … Just having those memories and now being in the position to become an Opry member, there’s nothing like that.”
The day couldn’t have been more momentous for Young, who earlier had celebrated his most recent No. 1, “Sober Saturday Night” (which Gill appeared on), at an Opry House party. During that event, Young also was surprised with the certification of a million sales of his 2011 album, Neon.
An Opry membership and a first platinum album? You bet they’re on Young’s bucket list.
“I checked two things off it in one day,” he said. “That’s a dang good day. … I challenge you to beat that day.”
But you don’t have to ask Young to pick which accomplishment reached deeper into his heart. The tears arrived only when he was on stage.
“I don’t cry at anything,” Young protested to the Opry audience as he fought his tears. “Man, this is stupid!”
Gill, also an Opry member, wasn’t done with Young yet. “We do have one more rule,” Gill explained (with tongue in cheek). “You have to sing one more song to earn your status.”
Young just chuckled. All his emotions weren’t going to get him out of the last song on his setlist. “The worst thing is, this song is really hard to sing,” he said before launching into “Sober Saturday Night.”
Don’t blame Young for the big, goofy grin he wore through perhaps the most sorrowful song on his lengthy list of hits.
“It was the happiest performance of a sad song I’ve ever given,” he allowed later. “That’s exactly what that was.”
Young will be officially inducted into the Opry on Oct. 17, days before the release of his upcoming album Losing Sleep.