The Grand Ole Opry has placed its future in the hands of four burgeoning country stars with the inaugural Opry NextStage. Riley Green, Travis Denning, Tenille Townes and Tegan Marie have been selected by the Opry as the 2019 class of new country artists poised to become the genre’s breakout stars.
Commemorated by sentimental videos documenting their Opry debuts, each artist delivered an impressive five-song set showcasing their talent and reverence for the esteemed institution during the official launch party at Blake Shelton’s Ole Red bar in Nashville on Tuesday, Jan. 8.
Green brought his dynamics to the stage with a strong cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” alongside his engaging debut single “There Was This Girl.” “I feel like anytime that I’ve played in Nashville always feels like a big deal to me. Playing something that has to do with the Grand Ole Opry is that much more of a big deal to us,” he said ahead of the show. “With these other talented artists, it’s really cool to be a part of something like this.”
Upon introducing Townes, famed Opry announcer Bill Cody described her debut as “auspicious.” After watching how the monumental event unfolded, you understand his reasoning. The video documenting her Opry debut chronicles not only her journey, but that of the 140 people from her hometown of Grand Prairie, Alberta, Canada who rented a plane to Nashville to watch her first performance on the coveted stage. After hearing Townes sing, it’s clear why she has such a team supporting her. Her set was grounded by a series of powerful songs, including “Jersey on the Wall (I’m Just Asking),” which has her bravely asking a higher power tough life questions, and the empathetic “Somebody’s Daughter,” an impactful number inspired by a woman Townes saw standing on the side of the road who was homeless.
“I’ve gone to watch the shows at the Opry and the Ryman so many times and sat in the audience and just imagined what that moment would feel like. Now I get to look back and actually imagine how it was and it’s just the most wonderful feeling,” she said, reflecting on her June 2018 debut. “It means the world to have the Grand Ole Opry believe in this path that I’m on from the very beginning. I can’t wait for the day to get to look back and remember what it was like to be a part of the class of 2019 and go ‘they were a part of this first.’ It’s wild to imagine all the historic moments that this kind of organization’s been a part of and it means the world to be embraced by that and to be lifted up by their support.”
Though merely 15-years-old, Marie proved she has a voice beyond her years. The spirited “Keep it Lit,” accompanied by the bop-turned-ballad “I Know How to Make a Boy Cry,” truly showed off her vocal ability and youthful charisma. Since signing with Warner Music Nashville in 2017, Marie has performed on the Opry more than a dozen times. She calls the Opry NextStage a “dream come true,” expressing appreciation for the family atmosphere. “The kind people are what makes it feel like a family,” she said. “The Opry is such a legendary, huge place, but it’s so crazy how you walk on that stage and you feel like you’re at home. It’s incredible.”
Those who identify with the country lifestyle will find a friend in Denning. The fast rising star made a name for himself with the unique story behind his hit “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs,” but his catalogue proves he’s carrying the torch for traditional country music. “Heartbeat of a Small Town” and “Boys Back Home” reflect this, as does his military tribute “Red White and Blue.” “I’ve always wanted to just have a small little corner in country music and specifically the Opry, and this is a little larger than a small corner, so it’s very exciting and I’m very honored to be a part of it,” he said of Opry NextStage.
Denning also experienced his Opry debut in 2018, and plans to use future appearances on the hallowed stage as a chance to experiment musically, whether performing a special duet or a song he doesn’t often play. “I look at it as an opportunity every night that I get to play it, how can I make a moment for those people to remember and for me to never forget,” he shared. “I just want to create moments at the Opry because that’s what the Opry stands for.”