"I spent so many years struggling and never knowing if any of this would ever happen for me," Vince told The Boot backstage before the show. "When a couple hits finally turned up in 1990 and allowed me the opportunity to get invited out here, it meant the world to me. If you ever strum a guitar, play three chords and sing a hillbilly song, this is the mecca. This is the place you dream of getting to come and it doesn't get any better." Sharing the night with Vince were his daughter, Jenny, his wife, Amy Grant, and a cast of Opry favorites including Little Jimmy Dickens, The Whites, Bill Anderson, Jean Shepard, The Time Jumpers, Martina McBride and Bobby Osborne and the Rocky Top X-Press.
"He's been a great, great ambassador for our business," John Anderson told The Boot backstage. "If anybody has done the Grand Old Opry good in the last 20 years, it's been Vince Gill. Of course, you can't say enough about Tater and Porter and those guys, but Vince is one of the guys who'll carry the torch in an honorable and right way. He's a great writer, a great singer and a great player and a very hard worker. He's a very good man. I'm flattered to be here this evening. It's a pleasure to be here in honor of Brother Vince. I wish him 20 more great years. If anybody's got 'em coming, he does."
"I love the friendships I've forged out here in 20 years," Vince commented backstage. "I just laugh at the people that are members and don't come out here and play. You have no idea what you're missing. These are great people. I've always felt like I owed it to them. It was my job and my duty to be out here. They were nice enough to think enough of me to say, 'We want you to be a member of this place.' ... I came a lot and still do and always will. It matters to me."
In his first performance of the evening, Vince sang Billy Grammer's hit, 'Gotta Travel On,' paying tribute to the Grand Old Opry star who died August 10. Vince joined longtime friend Emmylou Harris who took the stage to perform 'Two More Bottles of Wine' and duet with Vince on 'If I Needed You.'
"I'm happy to be here on such a special night. We all love Vince Gill, " Martina said before performing the song that became Vince's first No. 1 single, 'Take Your Memory With You.'
During the evening, Vince shared with the audience the reason he had to turn down his first invitation to perform on the Opry. "Jenny had a grade school talent show. She asked me if I'd play guitar for her and I taught her 'You Are My Sunshine.' We had to make about 800 rehearsals," he laughs. "We were all set to be on the talent show then the Opry called and said 'We've been watching you and we like what you do. We'd like to invite you out to play the Opry.' I said 'I can't cant come. I'm playing the first grade talent show over at Grassland Elementary. It's going to be quite a big shindig.' Maybe that meant something to them. I got to come another time and one thing led to another. They liked me and I liked them, and 20 years later, here we stand."
"I had no idea," Jenny says when asked if she knew about her Dad saying no to his first invitation to play the Opry. "I just knew I was nervous about playing the talent show and I was so proud I had my Dad with me that night. Speaking of things coming full circle, I got married last year and the song that we danced to at the reception was 'You Are my Sunshine.' That's how it all started at the talent show.
Needless to say, it was an emotional moment when the proud father introduced Jenny, who performed a stunningly soulful version of his hit 'If You Ever Have Forever In Mind.' Vince sat behind her on a stool obviously enjoying every note.
Jenny has fond memories of being backstage as a child and how special it was to be able to go past the velvet rope and stand in the wings on the side of the stage, watching her Dad perform. "I've always been so proud of my family," she told The Boot. "I could see the love on [people's] faces for my pop, but it doesn't come close to matching mine." During the evening, the audience was treated to a special video montage of some of Vince's most memorable moments at the Opry, including him joining Dolly Parton to sing 'I Will Always Love You' and a moving clip of Vince performing 'When I Call Your Name' while Roy Acuff's eyes filled with tears.
At the end of the video, Vince commented "Oh my God! I've had some bad hair in the last 20 years, and in some of those pictures, it looked like I'd been making too many trips to Cracker Barrel."
Opry Vice President/General Manager Pete Fisher presented Gill with a framed print commemorating his 20th anniversary. "The friendships I've built here mean more to me than every song I've ever sung out here on this stage," Vince told the audience. "I wouldn't know how to do this [music] without this place."
Among the evening's many highlights were when Vince welcomed his wife Amy to the stage, telling the audience she was "the kindest woman I've ever met." Amy performed her poignant hit 'Better Than a Hallelujah' and then treated the audience to a song she wrote about Vince titled 'True Love.' The beautiful ballad is a duet the couple recorded on Vince's forthcoming album 'Guitar Slinger,' due out in October.
As the evening drew to a close, Vince said, "in the immortal words of Mr. Roy [Acuff], 'You better sing the one that brung ya'" then he sang the first song he ever performed on the Opry, 'When I Call Your Name.'
Commemorating 20 years as a Grand Ole Opry member was a special occasion for the Oklahoma native, but backstage he was quick to say, "There's more to come. So many years of success is a great thing, but my ears and my heart tell me I'm better today by a mile than I was 10 years ago and I'm more motivated now than I've ever been. Getting inducted into the Hall of Fame doesn't make me want to just go play golf all the time, ride around in a boat and take it easy. It makes me want to go earn it."