Joe Howell, AP
"Where did the years go? That's what is so amazing to me is that the years have just flown by," says Ricky, who was inducted in 1982 by Ernest Tubb. "When I was a kid, I thought people 30-years-old were old people and I've been with an institution for 30 years. That's pretty amazing."
Ricky's special night began with a performance from 91-year-old Opry legend Little Jimmy Dickens who served up a few songs and jokes before welcoming Ricky to the stage. Ricky had personally chosen the artists who performed during the evening.
"I've known Darren Vincent since he stood up on a chair and played the bass with his mom and dad when he was a child," Skaggs says of bluegrass duo Dailey & Vincent's bassist. "Dean [Berner] with Edens Edge played some dates with The Whites, with [my wife] Sharon and the girls ... and Josh Turner, I love him. He and his wife, Jennifer, were a part of our Bible study for a while at our home."
"I was really honored that he asked me to be a part of it," Josh says of Ricky's 30th anniversary celebration. "I've always wanted to be around people I grew up listening to, and Ricky was definitely one of those people. Ricky has a great sense of where country music came from and where bluegrass music came from. He's an incredible musician and singer and has a lot of vision. Being around somebody like that is always inspiring. For him to have asked for me specifically was a huge compliment to me."
Josh sang his current single, "Time Is Love," from his upcoming album Punching Bag and then Ricky joined him for a duet of "Me and God," a tune from Josh's 2006 sophomore album, Your Man. That was just one of the evening's many musical highlights. Ricky delivered three of his biggest hits -- "Heartbroke," "Honey (Open That Door)" and "I Wouldn't Change You If I Could" -- and had the Opry audience singing along.
He joined newcomers Edens Edge to perform their debut single "Amen" and took the stage with The Whites (his wife Sharon, her dad Buck and sister Cheryl) to sing the Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper classic "Big Wheel." "She's got the most beautiful voice, sounds like a dang angel," Ricky said as he welcomed Alison to the Opry stage. The two delivered a stunning rendition of "Talk About Suffering" and Ricky lent harmony vocals to Alison singing "Down to the River to Pray" from the O Brother, Where Are Thou? soundtrack.
As a teenager, Ricky and his friend, the late Keith Whitley performed on the Opry with Ralph Stanley so it seemed appropriate he would join Dailey & Vincent on the Stanley Brothers' classic "On a Lonesome Night."
Grand Ole Opry Vice President/General Manager Pete Fisher took the stage to congratulate Ricky on his 30 years with the Opry and present him with a framed copy of a custom poster from Hatch Show Print commemorating the event. Worship leaders Keith and Kristyn Getty had been scheduled to leave earlier in the day for Glasgow, Scotland to start a tour, but postponed their flight to be there for Ricky's big night. The evening ended with all the artists coming on stage to sing the emotional anthem "In Christ Alone."
Before they launched into the final song, a tearful Ricky shared what he'd learned over the past three decades with the crowd. "When I came here 30 years ago, I was so full of myself. It was all about Ricky, his music and what he could do ... and folks, I've come to find out one thing, if Jesus and Him alone is not the center of your life, you will never ever be happy," he said as the audience clapped and cheered.
Ricky continued to share more about his life and faith before the Opry video screens filled with the lyrics to "In Christ Alone," and the audience joined in singing the closing number.
It was an emotional night for Ricky. "The Grand Ole Opry is evergreen and everlasting," Ricky told The Boot. "If the Grammys go away, there will still be the Grand Ole Opry. If the CMA was to go away or other entities, there's still going to be the Grand Ole Opry. Even if the Grand Ole Opry itself, the building and radio show for some reason went away, there would still be the heart and soul of the Grand Ole Opry -- the members. We'd still get together. We'd still visit as families. We would still carry on the tradition, even meeting at a house or meeting at a church or anywhere. We love each other. We care about each other."
Ricky says he learned a lot over the years from the Opry's legends. "Minnie Pearl said, 'Honey, go out there and love them and they'll love you back.' She's told others that too," Ricky relates.
The inclusive spirit of the Opry cast also made an impression on him. "What they taught me is how they brought traditional music into their music and expanded on it," he says. "They loved tradition. They were tradition, but yet they embraced new artists as well and new sounds as well."
The Opry cast continues to do just that, most recently welcoming Keith Urban. "I couldn't be with Keith when he became a member," says Ricky. "I was on the road playing, but I sent an email to him and I told him I was so proud of him. I knew it was an answer to prayers in his life that he really wanted to be a member here for many years and be a part of the Opry family."
Ricky also extended an important piece of advice to the new member. "I said, 'Just a word of warning: Don't EVER park in Jean Shepard's parking place!'" Ricky laughs. "I have experienced that wrath and it's not worth it."