Exclusive: Vince Gill and ERNEST Unveil Opry Magic, Share Songwriting Tips, and Dive Deep into Country Music [Video]

Opry member Vince Gill and Opry NextStage artist ERNEST are staunch supporters of the Grand Ole Opry. While Gill has been an official part of the Opry family since 1991, ERNEST was named a member of the Opry NextStage Class of 2023 where he’ll be highlighted through live performances and digital broadcasts.

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In honor of October being National Country Music Month, American Songwriter hosted a conversation between Gill and ERNEST at our Nashville office. In the nearly hour-long chat (available to watch in the video below), the pair discuss their musical journeys and the long road to their respective Opry debuts. They also share humorous tales of writing with Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer Dean Dillon, hearing their songs reinterpreted through AI, Merle Haggard’s lasting impact, and much more. 

[RELATED: Vince Gill and Paul Franklin Talk Ray Price Tribute Album]

“To me, it’s the only place you can go and see 60 years of musical history in one night,” Gill says of the Grand Ole Opry House and radio show, which recently celebrated its 98th anniversary. “Most people go to a concert [and] they see one or two people.”

While Gill nostalgically recalls watching the Grand Ole Opry on television with his parents, ERNEST admits that he’s always put the Grand Ole Opry on a pedestal. 

“I’ve always aimed at getting to play that stage,” ERNEST says. “When I got that phone call, ‘Flower Shops’ was a moment [and] I was shocked and a tear rolled down my face. All those feelings happened and it was like a warm pat on the back that I wasn’t crazy for trying to still make country music and there’s a home for it.”

Gill vividly recalls his first invitation to play the Opry as an artist and he had to decline. As it turns out, he was already booked at his daughter’s elementary school talent show. He and his oldest daughter Jenny had rehearsed “You Are My Sunshine” for weeks when the general manager called to invite him to make his Opry debut the same night as the talent show. 

“I said, ‘I’ve dreamed of this call my whole life. When?’” Gill recalls. “He said, ‘Saturday night.’ I said, ‘Man, I wish I could make it but I’m booked at the Grassland Elementary School. Good dad move, right? 

“So they invited me sometime later and I got to go out there and play. The cool thing was when Jenny got married we were trying to figure out what would be a good father-daughter dance song. It was ‘You Are My Sunshine.’”

[RELATED: ERNEST Covers John Mayer’s “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” at Opry]

During his Opry debut, Gill performed “When I Call Your Name.” At the time, he hadn’t yet recorded the song. As he explains, he loves to debut new music during his Opry appearances.

“The Opry has a million great songwriters that come through those ranks,” Gill says. “Roy Acuff always used to say, ‘You better sing the one that brung you here, son.’ So you always want to sing something that’s familiar to people because a lot of times it’s people’s first experience. I play new songs out there all the time. … When I first played the Opry, ‘When I Call Your Name’ was a new song and it hadn’t been recorded yet. That’s the first song I played at the Opry. So it’s got a history of good luck I’d say.”

Adds ERNEST: “I’ve got all kinds of songs across the board, but there are certain songs that I’ll probably never play at the Opry. When I’m cutting my record, we run it through an Opry filter. It’s like, ‘What is this gonna sound like with the Opry band?’ I think there needs to be steel guitar in songs and I got more fiddle on this next record than I’ve ever played. I want country music to make people feel how I felt as a kid when I got addicted to it.”

Throughout their hour-long chat, Gill also bestowed some songwriting wisdom. 

“I’ve always tried to be as minimal as I could with writing songs, with playing songs, with singing songs,” he notes. “I’m trying to say the most I can with the least I can. … That’s what Guy Clark taught me. He said, ‘If the word that you’re using doesn’t add to telling the story then it doesn’t belong.’”

For more on songwriting and Gill and ERNEST’s country music conversation, watch the video below. ERNEST will perform as part of the Opry NextStage Live concert on December 6 at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville. Tickets are now available for purchase HERE.

Photo Courtesy: American Songwriter

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