16 Years Ago: Eric Church Makes His Grand Ole Opry Debut
Sixteen years ago today (April 1, 2006) was an unforgettable day for Eric Church: It was on that date that the North Carolina native made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry, more than two months before his first album, Sinners Like Me, was even released.
Church, who was introduced that night by Porter Wagoner and Jim Ed Brown, performed "How 'Bout You," the debut single from his freshman project, then segued into the Leadbelly song "Black Betty."
"It was funny -- we thought, 'Can we do Ram Jam at the Opry?' It was a last-minute decision before the late show, right before we walked out onstage," Church tells GAC of the unconventional song choice. "I told the guys, 'I'll give you a thumbs up or thumbs down.' So I gave them a thumbs up, and we went for it. And the crowd loved it."
That night, Church also performed the title track of his then-upcoming album.
"My grandmother has listened to the Opry her whole life, so as a young kid, I can remember listening to it," Church says. "By the time I became a teenager, you could see the Opry on television and go to the Opry. I was 14 years old when I went to the Opry for the first time. We visited Nashville and went to the Opry, so I knew the tradition of it."
Church's grandmother was among the friends and family members with him on the night of his Grand Ole Opry debut, which made the event even more special.
"It was great for me -- a dream come true. But I think it was more gratifying for me because my grandmother was there," Church explains. "She [was] 84 years old [at the time], and for her, there is nothing bigger than the Opry. Her quote is, 'The Opry's bigger than Oprah.' I was really glad she got to be there. And Porter Wagoner is one of her favorites, so for Porter to introduce her grandson on the Opry was a really cool moment."
When Church returned to the Opry in 2014, the singer-songwriter said that performing in the hallowed hall was significant for him for another reason, aside from the history of the venue.
"There was a time in my youth that I never thought I would ever be 36 years old," he said, before launching into "A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young." "I thought I would punch the clock a long time ago with how I've lived."
Church, who has spent much of the past few years performing all over the world to sold-out crowds, says that the Opry will always remain one of his favorite places to sing.
"I've played a lot of gigs, but I've never felt this anywhere else," he notes. "In that situation, it's almost like everybody's pulling for you. In most other situations, like awards shows, it's more of a competitive thing. You want to do better than everybody else. But at the Opry, I could tell that everybody wanted me to do good. And I wanted them to do good. It's the Opry -- and it becomes family."
Country Music's Biggest Risk-Takers:
WATCH: You Think You Know Eric Church?