Lainey Wilson inducted into the Grand Ole Opry by Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood (2024)

Marcus K. Dowling

Lainey Wilson was inducted as the latest cast member of the Grand Ole Opry on Friday evening.

It would require turning back the clock to Carrie Underwood's 2008 induction to underscore how powerful the moment becomes when the almost century-old and quintessential country music-defining program has crystallized a star's sudden ascension to superstardom precisely as it is occurring.

However, because Wilson's waited a lifetime since birth and 13 years since arriving in Music City to achieve the accomplishment, it's the most important moment yet in reframing her career and its impact on country music and the timeless influences apparent in the genre's overall pop cultural impact at present.

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Wilson performs with Terri Clark, Wynonna Judd

Wilson was officially welcomed into the Opry cast by Opry members Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, surprise guests for the sold-out first-show audience.

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Lainey Wilson inducted into the Grand Ole Opry by Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood (2)

As she did just a week prior at two capacity-packed shows at Ascend Amphitheater, Wilson performed earlier in the evening with two-decade-long Opry member Terri Clark on her hit “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” and Country Music Hall of Famer Wynonna Judd for their soon-to-be-released collaboration on the Tom Petty hit “Refugee.”

In a rare super-extended set, Wilson then returned to perform a set of songs including “Dreamcatcher,” “Things A Man Oughta Know,” “Heart Like A Truck,” “Watermelon Moonshine,” and Hang Tight Honey.”

Lainey Wilson inducted into the Grand Ole Opry by Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood (3)

Wilson, overcome with emotion and surrounded by her entire family on the Opry stage's legendary, unbroken circle, said the evening was "the biggest night of (her) life."

"We have had a crazy couple of years and all the awards and everything but this right here feels like the highest honor for me. It feels like the stamp of approval from everybody that stood right here. That just lights another fire under my butt.” “As a little girl, I didn’t dream about my wedding day. I didn’t dream about what song I’d play at my wedding, I dreamed about this right here. I dreamed about what song I would play in the circle if I got the opportunity.”

Reba McEntire invited Lainey Wilson on 'The Voice'

Only two weeks prior, Wilson was invited to join the Opry's cast by now fellow Opry member Reba McEntire on the season finale of NBC's singing program"The Voice."

Lainey Wilson inducted into the Grand Ole Opry by Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood (4)

After Wilsonperformed "Hang Tight Honey,"her latest single from her forthcoming album"Whirlwind,"Wilson was surprised onstage by McEntire who made the invite.

"Lainey, I am so proud of you," McEntire said. "I have heard that I’ve inspired you and what you’ve done so far, and I am thrilled to death if I had anything to do with your career, ’cause you are blowing it up. I couldn’t be more proud to be the one that helps you continue to bridge the gap between our generations, keep ’em all goin’. I’d like to be the person who invites you to be an official member of the Grand Ole Opry."

Moved to tears by the ask, Wilson accepted.

Women (again) assume the forefront of the Opry's influence

“When I see Lainey on the Opry stage, I know without a doubt I’m looking at an important part of the Opry’s future,” said Dan Rogers, Opry executive producer. “What a phenomenal Opry addition and what a great night.”

Lainey Wilson inducted into the Grand Ole Opry by Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood (5)

Regarding that future, nearly 45 percent of the Opry's deluge of new cast members have been women since 2020.

Wilson joins Sara Evans, Ashley McBryde, Lauren Alaina, Mandy Barnett, Carly Pearce, Rhonda Vincent and Lady A's Hillary Scott as key members of a crew of artists upholding country's most valued traditions as the genre broadens and heightens its reach and scope of influence.

Notably, the last time the Opry inducted over a half-dozen women in a decade was in the 1960s when Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Jeannie Seely, Connie Smith, Dottie West, Norma Jean, Marion Worth, Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline became Opry cast members.

Both Brooks and Yearwood's on-stage comments alluded to this notion and how the lifetime longevity of Opry membership also impacts Wilson's potential with her latest role as a leading artist in modern country music.

Lainey Wilson inducted into the Grand Ole Opry by Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood (6)

Yearwood, taking the stage during Wilson’s set said, “We are honored to be here tonight. There can never be too many women at the Grand Ole Opry. I have had the chance to know you Lainey just a little bit and what I know and the biggest compliment I think I can pay you is that ‘you get it.’ You know what it means to love country music. You love the Grand Ole Opry and that’s really what it’s all about. I will tell you this, I know this, when I think about the future of country music, I know with you in it we are going to be ok.”

Brooks added, “I would say I’m so happy for you, but I’m so dang happy for the Grand Ole Opry. I really am. It’s just really rare that you find somebody at your age that already gets it. So I’m going to tell you, if it’s up to you which I think it will be, your career is going to be as long as you want. There’s going to be highs. There’s going to be lows. The awards they give you now and you continue to receive will fade in time. The one thing that will continue is this family right here. Welcome to it.”

Wilson's induction highlights a multitude of full-circle moments

Wilson's induction makes her the first member of the Opry's Nextstage emerging talent incubator program to be inducted as a member. In 2021, she was highlighted in a class alongside now two-time ACM award-winner Parker McCollum, 2023 ACM Award winner Hailey Whitters, six-time Grammy nominee Yola, and a trio of country radio chart-toppers: Priscilla Block, Niko Moon, and Jameson Rodgers.

Opry NextStage class membership typically involves frequent Opry stage appearances and greater inclusion in the program and venue's marketing strategies. The goal is that, like Wilson, artists can eventually become a mainstay of the show's calendar — or better yet, cast members.

Lainey Wilson inducted into the Grand Ole Opry by Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood (7)

Wilson's been a frequent Opry guest since making her debut in Feb. 2020 after arriving in Nashville with her initial Music City home hooked to her car on a trailer hitch nine years prior.

Upon making her Opry debut, Wilson noted, "Most little girls dream about their wedding day, their wedding dress and walking down the aisle with their daddy. But (making my Opry debut) is the day I've been dreaming about (for my whole life)."

While welcoming 2024's Nextstage class, Wilson said the moment, like many for her of late, was a "full-circle" career evolution.

Lainey Wilson inducted into the Grand Ole Opry by Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood (8)

“My family’s over here tonight, and I will say, they took me to Nashville when I was nine years old and we went to the Grand Ole Opry, and we saw Bill Anderson and Crystal Gayle and Little Jimmy Dickens, and I knew that I wanted to play there," Wilson told McEntire. "It is so crazy that you’re asking me to be a member ’cause I look up to you so much. I’m not talking about just musically, but the way that you carry yourself and your work ethic, you inspire me every day."

On Friday evening, Opry members and friends — including the previously mentioned Anderson and Gayle — joined Cody Johnson, Jelly Roll, and Dolly Parton in offering congratulatory video messages.

Lainey Wilson inducted into the Grand Ole Opry by Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood (2024)


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