One week after he was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry last March, one of the long-running show’s newest members, Chris Janson, took the stage with fellow artist Jamey Johnson for a spine-chilling rendition of “Footlights,” the classic, autobiographical Merle Haggard song detailing a weary, jaded musician’s duty-bound efforts to keep an audience engaged and entertained. Intense and heartfelt, the performance from the two singer-songwriters is a stunning tribute to a trio of invaluable institutions: Haggard, country music and the Opry itself.
In 1979, 41-year-old Merle Haggard released his LP Serving 190 Proof, regarded as one of his very best for its often discomfiting subject matter. Referencing his age in the lines of the album’s opening track, “Footlights,” Haggard acknowledges that it isn’t always easy to take the stage and perform for a roomful of eager fans night after night. The song was inspired by a real-life incident just before a show in July 1975 when he was informed that his longtime singing idol Lefty Frizzell had died. Haggard would continue to kick out the footlights for another four decades until his death in April 2016.
The “newest” member of the Grand Ole Opry, 83-year-old songwriter Bobby Bare, was re-inducted last month, having last been an official Opry cast member for a decade from the mid-Sixties.