Wade Payne, Invision/AP
The star-studded, invitation-only ceremony opened with a performance by Country Music Hall of Fame member Vince Gill and guitarist Jeff White and featured musical tributes to each inductee, with Ronnie Dunn offering a "spirited" rendition of the 1959 George Jones smash, "White Lightning," one of the countless hits on which new inductee "Pig" (a nickname the musician earned as a child) played piano. Ronnie sipped from a Mason jar as he sang, noting that he planned to drink down the contents (presumably, moonshine) before finishing the song. He didn't quite make it to the bottom of the jar, however, by the song's end.
Crystal Gayle performed her pop-country crossover hit from 1977, "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue," followed by Gene Watson singing his 1981 country chart-topper, "Fourteen Carat Mind." While other piano players performed with those artists, Robbins followed his official induction by performing the Charlie Rich classic, "Behind Closed Doors," with Ronnie Milsap on vocals.
Connie Smith's official induction, by her longtime friend, Merle Haggard, was preceded by tributes from the Quebe Sisters Band, who performed a stellar version of her 1964 debut hit, "Once a Day;" the Whites, who offered up their rendition of "If It Ain't Love (Let's Leave It Alone)," a tune they charted with in 1985; and Lee Ann Womack, who sang Connie's 1973 hit, "You've Got Me (Right Where You Want Me)." Connie, who has made gospel music a staple of her recording career since her debut, took the stage after her induction to sing "When I Need Jesus, He's There."
The induction of record-breaking entertainer Garth Brooks, presided over by one of his greatest influences, Hall of Fame member George Strait, included performances of three of Garth's best-known hits. George performed "Much Too Young (to Feel This Damn Old)," with pop-folk legend James Taylor singing "The River" and rock icon Bob Seger delivering an outstanding rendition of "That Summer." Garth's emotion-filled acceptance speech ended with a special tribute to his wife, Trisha Yearwood (who took the stage to sing back-up on his songs), and his three daughters, Taylor, August and Allie, all of whom were in attendance to witness the special event.
The program began with introductions of many of the attendees and included a moment of silence for three Country Music Hall of Fame members who had passed away during the year: Kitty Wells, Earl Scruggs and Frances Preston. Other Hall of Fame members who were in attendance were recognized with a round of applause, including Roy Clark, Emmylou Harris, Sonny James, Brenda Lee, Barbara Mandrell and Jean Shepard. As is tradition at the annual ceremony, the evening closed with the program's participants joining all of the Hall of Fame members to sing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."
Walking the red carpet before the ceremony began, Garth pondered what he felt the Hall of Fame honor represented for him going forward. "I look at as a continuation of trying make country music as proud you as you ... represented it the best that you can," he told The Boot and other reporters. "The only difference in our life is she [points to Trisha] has to say 'Hall of Famer' before she calls my name.'" "Not gonna happen," Trisha quickly replied. "No, I don't feel any different, but tomorrow we should talk," Garth continued.
In terms of joining his fellow inductees, Garth said, "The thing I bitch and gripe about the Hall of Fame is they don't put enough people in. There are a lot of people that aren't in yet that should be in before me. But when you stand back and look at it, it ensures whatever class you go in is going to be a class of a level that's unbelievable." Garth also noted that he had moved to Nashville to get "Much Too Young (to Feel This Damn Old)" cut by George Strait, and that having his hero on hand to perform the song was "gonna be so cool."
And it was.