But if you were at the Opry on Saturday night, you would never know it.
As Chancey Williams stepped into the hallowed circle for his Opry debut, the Cowboy State was well represented in the audience to support their native son.
And Chancey’s a guy who’s used to being in the spotlight in one form or another: Before he settled on a career in country music, he was a saddle bronc rider in the rodeo throughout his high school and college career.
“I loved every second of it. I started riding a bucking horse when I was in 9th grade and rode all through college, went to college finals a couple times, and went to high school finals, and loved it.
I sure love music now, but there’s something about rodeo that you just think about all the time.”
But growing up in Wyoming, Chancey said that while he was familiar with the Grand Ole Opry, he wasn’t as familiar with the history of the legendary institution until he started playing country music himself:
“I would say I definitely knew about the Opry growing up way out there, but I didn’t really know a lot about the history of it. Everybody hears about the Grand Ole Opry, but the further we got along in our career you start looking into who’s played here and who’s playing now and who has played there and it’s unbelievable.
Anybody that’s anybody ever in music has played the Grand Ole Opry.”
And while he may be a newcomer to the Opry, Chancey’s already managed to build up quite the resumé in country music. He’s one of only two people to ever both compete and play the main stage at Cheyenne Frontier Days – an honor he shares with the legendary Chris LeDoux, and one that he doesn’t take lightly:
“I get compared to Chris a lot, which I love, but I always tell people that Chris is the king of Wyoming and always will be.”
While Chancey may not be comfortable being in the same conversation as a legend like Chris LeDoux, it’s a natural comparison when you listen to his latest album, One of These Days. Filled with gritty, fiddle-soaked songs about loving, leaving, and the cowboy lifestyle, it’s one that’s authentically and undeniably country.
The album was produced by the incredible singer, songwriter and producer Trent Willmon, who also produces Cody Johnson’s albums. And with both CoJo and Chancey having a background in rodeo, there’s another natural comparison between the two – even when it comes to being considered “too rodeo for radio.”
“I would say the last 10 years in country music, there wasn’t a lot of cowboy hats or cowboys at all. So we just kinda rode it out until shows like Yellowstone and Big Sky now have brought cowboys back to the forefront. Now we’re cool again.
We’ve been cowboys forever, but there was just a gap there. When we started we sounded like this…we’re super country.
There’s millions of people out there that do want to know that lifestyle and do want to know the lifestyle of the cowboy songs we sing.”
So for somebody who grew up getting bucked off of horses, surely stepping onto the Opry stage should be a piece of cake, right? Well we asked Chancey which one would make him more nervous: Stepping into the Opry circle for the first time, or riding a bucking horse.
Chancey said with a laugh:
“I think today, where this is such high profile, I’d almost rather get on a bucking horse today. Just because this is so nerve racking.
Once you’re in the routine of riding all the time your nerves kinda go away. And they do in music too, but I guess the high level of this stage is making me a little nervous.
But I think it’s all good for excitement too. It’s excited nervous.”
Well Chancey definitely had a lot of support there to help him get through the nerves: Aside from the large Wyoming contingent in the crowd, he also brought his entire band, many of whom have been with him for over a decade, for his debut – something that’s rare for artists taking the Opry stage for the first time, but was important to Chancey:
“It’s super special to get to spend this night together on the Grand Ole Opry stage. We’ve played every juke joint, beer tavern across the U.S. growing up. We had all these dates, we would take about anything to play just because we liked playing and to learn our craft.
All the hard work that they’ve put in to get here, I didn’t wanna just do it by myself. I wouldn’t be playing the Opry stage if I didn’t have such a good band and crew. We’re a family, and whatever we do it’s always all together.
If the Opry would have pushed back I’d have probably had to still do it, but it was nice that the Opry was open to being like, ‘Hey man, they’ve been with you a long time so they deserve it too.’
So it’s special for them, and all their families are here, and like I said if you’d have told any of us way back in the day in high school, ‘One day you’ll play the Grand Ole Opry,’ we’d have probably laughed in your face.”
And when he took the stage, much to the delight of the crowd from both Wyoming and elsewhere, it was clear that Chancey belongs on the Opry stage.
Because cowboy hats don’t just belong in the rodeo: They belong in country music too.