Fifty-six years ago when Gene Watson performed on the Grand Ole Opry for the first time, he received a standing ovation. He was just 21 years old. On Friday (2/7), Watson again received a standing ovation, this time when he was introduced as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry by Steve Wariner.
Just three weeks earlier (1/17), Vince Gill had made Watson an offer he couldn’t refuse. “If you will sing your song ‘Farewell Party,’ the Opry will invite you to be the next member of the Grand Ole Opry.” It didn’t take a very surprised Watson long to accept that offer.
“I was kind of blindsided and that also led me to think he might be playing some kind of trick on me. I didn’t know what to think and I guess that’s why I kept saying ‘Are you kidding me?’” Watson confessed in an interview with Sounds Like Nashville before his induction. “I was leaving the stage and Vince called me back out there and that’s when he lowered the boom. He took all the air out of me and I didn’t even know if I could sing ‘Farewell Party’ after he issued that invitation. That’s not an easy song to sing anytime, but especially after hearing something like that. It was a great moment to say the least.”
Watson says he has tried to grasp becoming an Opry member in the weeks after he received the invitation. “I can usually set myself up for anything I need to do. I’m never intimidated, and I really don’t like surprises. But this was to say the least one of the biggest surprises I’ve ever had.”
Wariner, who asked Watson if he could be the Opry member who inducted him, told the audience, “I remember my induction night as humbling and overwhelming. But this night isn’t about me, it’s about someone whom I think is the greatest country singer and the greatest interpreter of a country song that probably will ever be. There’s not a better ambassador of country music than Gene Watson. What an honor for me to get to be the one to welcome Gene as the newest member of the Opry.”
Watson, who wore a black jacket embellished with white flowers and rhinestones, delighted the audience with his hits “Got No Reason Now For Goin’ Home” and “Fourteen Caret Mind.” He paused to offer his gratitude for being invited to be a member of the Opry, saying, “It’s hard to find the words tonight to express how I feel. I promise you I will do everything within my power to keep up the tradition of country music.”
Before launching into his next song, Watson recognized his Farewell Party band. Then he turned to the audience and said, “You folks have been so good to me over the years and I thank you. And who better than Steve Wariner to induct me as a member of the Grand Ole Opry?”
Watson went on to say, “I hope I can sing this last song a little better than I did the night Vince invited me to be an Opry member.” He then launched into “Farewell Party,” and the audience assured him with their applause that he was doing an awesome job with his most requested tune.
After the induction ceremony was over, Watson went backstage where a beautiful cake was waiting for him. The inscription on the cake proclaimed, “Grand Ole Opry welcomes its newest member, Gene Watson, February 7, 2020.”
“I’m not sure what I’m doing here,” Watson said with a laugh as he was handed a knife to cut the first piece of the German chocolate cake, which just happens to be his favorite. The cake was then shared with friends, guests and Opry staff members who were honored to get to be part of the singer’s first night as an Opry member. Throughout the evening, many of these folks had walked into Watson’s dressing room to tell him how proud they were that he was becoming an Opry member.
As the evening came to a close, Watson was still not sure he grasped the fact that he is the Opry’s newest member. He reflected on that first appearance on the Opry, in 1964, when the Wilburn Brothers brought him to Nashville to be their guest on the famous radio show and he received that first standing ovation. After his performance there, they took him over to Ernest Tubb’s Midnight Jamboree where Tubb asked him to perform on that show as well. It was an awesome night for the young singer.
“I didn’t know how I could digest anything any better than that until we got to this,” Watson says. “I’m still waiting for somebody to wake me up. I haven’t really had time to digest this right now you know, but I’m sure it will all sink in. I do know I’ll cherish this night for the rest of my life.”