Little Big Town‘s journey to the Grand Ole Opry came full circle Friday night, October 17th. A sold-out crowd was on hand to watch the platinum-selling group become the Opry’s newest members a full 15 years after the “Day Drinking” singers first appeared together on the esteemed Opry stage. The official induction followed the group’s surprise invitation earlier this month from fellow Opry cast member Reba McEntire.
In 1999, as young hopefuls in country music, the quartet of Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook made their performance debut on the Opry stage.
“This was the first place we ever played in front of human beings in a public way,” Sweet told Rolling Stone Country and other media outlets backstage before the group’s official induction. “We didn’t have a band, we didn’t have any musicians. It was just us… “
“And one borrowed guitar,” Westbrook chimed in.
Having only played in each other’s living rooms and at various conference rooms around town in search of a record deal, the foursome received their first invite to play the Opry when another act canceled at the last minute.
“We literally knew three songs,” Schlapman said.
“That was the same day we signed our record deal,” said Westbrook, who is now married to fellow group member Fairchild.
With several family members and industry friends in attendance to witness the special occasion, the group recalled the influence the 89-year-old Grand Ole Opry has had on previous generations.
“My mother started listening to it as a kid,” Schlapman explained. “We listened to it growing up at our house. Then when we came to town, I came to the Opry a few times and sat out in the audience and just dreamed, ‘I wonder what it feels like to be invited to be an Opry member.’ I’ve played that through my head so many times across the years. Now we finally know.”
“The first time we played the Opry, I had family members listening in other towns, back before Wi-Fi,” Sweet added. “My sister had to drive to the golf course 10 miles away from our house just so they could get on the hill to pick up the AM radio to hear the station.”
“The only way, down in Georgia, they could hear the Opry was to sit in the car and listen to the radio,” Schaplman said, adding that no one in her family knew what time the group was going on, and that her grandfather nearly missed the whole thing when nature called. “He went into the bathroom and, of course, we came on. So my grandmother laid down on the horn and my papaw came out pulling up his pants. He made it just in time. He’s in Heaven — with his pants on, I’m sure — watching us now.”
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The group, who are also celebrating the October 21st release of their sixth album, Pain Killer, chose to echo their very first Opry performance with a back-to-basics rendition of their 2006 hit, “Bring It on Home.” After performing their breakthrough Top 10 hit “Boondocks,” the group officially joined the cast of the longest-running live radio show in American history. They were inducted by fellow members Vince Gill and Little Jimmy Dickens, who at 93, is the Opry’s oldest member.