The Austin Chronicle

Live Shots

Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, November 5, 1999, Music

Don Walser

Grand Ole Opry, Nashville, Tennessee, October 30

Despite the fact that country music has taken a turn away from its roots and hit a slide in popularity, the Grand Ole Opry continues to hold the torch for the music's tradition. In fact, the show is pretty much the same as it ever was. Those scenes from Robert Altman's Nashville, although filmed in 1975, still ring true: Older men with bad hair, couples in odd, yet matching, outfits, pretty young women hanging around backstage hoping someone will notice them, and a Japanese fiddle group in cowboy outfits are all part of the scene. The format of the program runs similarly to the way it has for nearly 75 years, and the stars still try to capture that show biz magic. Segment hosts, including Porter Wagoner, who wore sparkles right down to his shoes, and Jean Sheppard, elegant in a glittering white gown, kept things moving spryly while also performing some of their better-known songs. The music, for the most part miles away from what passes for county on the radio these days, seemed a little tired, and some of the performers, while spirited, are clearly past their prime. It was interesting that the bluegrass portions of this particular Opry provided some of the evening's highlights. Ricky Skaggs has returned to his bluegrass roots, and along with his band, Kentucky Thunder, showed off prodigious chops and a healthy amount of soul. Alison Krauss & Union Station got the longest set of the night, three songs, and received the most enthusiastic response of the evening for her combination of lively picking and pop sensibilities. For the Texans in the audience, and there were a quite a few, the evening was particularly special as it marked the debut of Don Walser on the Grand Ole Opry. Walser and his wife sat offstage and watched the proceedings with twinkling eyes as friends like Charlie Louvin dropped by to wish them well. A particularly poignant moment came when Walser was presented with a huge bouquet of flowers from legendary songwriter Cindy Walker to honor the occasion. Midway through the evening's second show, John Conlee introduced Walser with a brief sketch of his life, assuring that the audience knew they were in for something special. Then, accompanied by Floyd Domino, Scot Walls, Howard Kalish, Don Keeling, and Phillip Fajardo, he jumped into his signature tune, "Rolling Stone From Texas." The most amazing part of the performance was the audience's reaction to Walser's yodel. When he let loose in the second part of the song, you could actually see jaws drop and smiles form on people's faces. The song ended too quickly. Walser & His Pure Texas Band received as rousing an ovation as any performer had received all night, making it likely that another 65 years won't pass before he gets invited to play the Grand Ole Opry again.

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