The platinum-selling phenom accepts the latest in a long string of honors and awards, but he says, "As far as career achievements go ... this is the No. 1 thing"
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When Luke Combs was 6 years old, his mom and grandmother sneaked him in for free to his first concert, to see Vince Gill, at a minor league baseball stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.

On Tuesday night in Nashville, there was no sneaking around: Combs was the main attraction at center stage, being inducted into the Grand Ole Opry by none other than Gill.

“I found out not too long ago that the first concert he ever went to was one of mine — so I obviously didn’t ruin him, so that’s encouraging — but it meant a lot to me,” Gill told the sold-out Opry House crowd.

Vince Gill and Luke Combs
| Credit: Chris Hollo for The Grand Ole Opry

Gill’s partner in the induction ceremony was Joe Diffie, another one of Combs’ boyhood idols, and they were joined on stage by other Opry members, old and new, including Chris Janson, Craig Morgan, Dustin Lynch, Mark Wills and Larry, Steve and Rudy Gatlin.

The Opry membership is just the latest in the 29-year-old artist’s string of fast achievements, including five consecutive platinum No. 1 singles and CMA, ACM, Billboard and iHeartRadio awards.

In welcoming Combs into the Opry, Gill lavished praise on the country phenom. “You are killing it,” he told Combs, “and it’s so much fun to watch because you’re so real and so honest and, more than anything, you are at the top of your game.”

Combs wiped away tears as Gill’s words soaked in. “It’s pretty hard to find anything to say that makes me feel like I wouldn’t sound like an idiot,” Combs said after Diffie handed him his Opry trophy. “Right now here I am on stage with people I grew up listening to and people that have shaped me as an artist, and I just want to say thank you to you guys, thank you to the Grand Ole Opry, and thank you to the fans.”

Luke Combs
Luke Combs being inducted into the Grand Ole Opry
| Credit: Chris Hollo for the Grand Ole Opry

Combs had known about the induction since June 11 when Janson, Morgan and John Conlee surprised him with his invitation during an Opry appearance — a moment that brought Combs to sobs.

At a press conference before the induction, Combs explained why the invitation hit him so hard. “As far as career achievements go … this is the No. 1 thing,” he said. “The sold-out arenas are great and the sold-out amphitheaters are great, and those are things that you strive for … But this is just an institution, and to me … it is country music, and so being asked was the most amazing, overwhelming, flattering, humbling experience that I’ve ever had.”

For the induction, Combs said his emotions were a little more in check. “I think the last time I was just so caught off guard by the whole thing,” he told reporters. “I remember the first thing I thought when they asked was, man, I can’t believe my parents are gonna find out on the radio.”

In fact, Combs’ parents had been let in on the secret, and they, along with Combs’ entire team, were stage-side to witness the moment. A whole gang of family and friends, including Combs’ grandmother who took him to the Gill concert, were there for the induction on Tuesday.

Combs reminisced about that first concert, remembering how he hid in the car’s backseat to get onto the stadium grounds — and how he missed his favorite Gill song, “I Still Believe in You,” because he had to be taken home early.

“I started crying because there was thunder in the background,” he confessed.

Luke Combs
Luke Combs being inducted into the Grand Ole Opry
| Credit: Chris Hollo for the Grand Ole Opry

Gill was already on the night’s Opry bill, and so during the press conference, Combs noted the “full circle” moment of the evening. What Combs didn’t know at the time, however, was just how full that circle was. He hadn’t been told that Gill would be inducting him — and he wanted it that way.

“Sometimes in the music industry things can become so planned out,” he explained. “Having those moments where you’re not expecting something and you don’t know it’s gonna happen is so huge for me and so important for me that I just told my team, ‘Hey, I don’t want to know. I just want to be surprised.’ Just being asked and being here with my family and the people I love is enough for me.”

Combs returned to that sentiment in the choice of his first song as a Grand Ole Opry member, his album title track, “This One's for You,” a musical appreciation to family, friends and fiancée Nicole Hocking that he called “my favorite song that I’ve ever written.” He chose to perform it with only his guitar’s accompaniment.

“I just want the people that I love to know how much they mean to me,” he said in his introduction, “and this [song] is going to show them that tonight, I hope. And they’ve heard it a million times, but it feels a little extra special tonight.”