That all changed last night when Jon Pardi became the first California native to become a member of the historic Grand Ole Opry.
Pardi was invited to become a member of the Opry back in April, during a performance at Stagecoach in his home state of California. He was surprised not only by Guy Fieri, but by a special video from Opry member and country legend Alan Jackson to extend the invitation.
But long before he was invited to become a member, Pardi made his Opry debut nearly a decade ago. And before officially being inducted as a member during a special show on Tuesday, he was asked what he remembered about his first time stepping into the circle:
“I had long hair. The band played everything really fast, but really good. And it was a rush…
I also had a stretch Hummer limo. Went all out, me and my mom. I don’t even know where we found a stretch Hummer limo, but it was rolling around midtown by Loser’s where I was playing at the time, and I was like, ‘Man, we gotta take a limo to the Grand Ole Opry. We’re doing it mom. We’re doing it.’
That’s kinda what I remember that night. And the band played a little fast.”
Well on his induction night Pardi didn’t show up in a limo: His tour bus was parked behind the Opry House, a sure sign of Pardi’s success and status as one of the biggest artists in mainstream country music, but also a testament to the hard work and dedication he’s put into making country music that led to him being invited to join the Grand Ole Opry.
Pardi was under the weather on Tuesday night – something a lot of people in Nashville who suffer from allergies can relate to this time of year. His voice sometimes cracked as he spoke, and at one point during a press conference ahead of the show he had to ask for water.
But he was determined to make it through the night and not have to postpone his historic induction ceremony.
Now, every Grand Ole Opry induction ceremony is historic. And with an institution that’s nearly 100 years old, it’s hard to be the “first” of anything these days. But Pardi’s night had a special significance as he became the first native of his home state to become a member of the Opry.
California has a storied roster of country artists over the years: Names like Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and Gary Allan come immediately to mind. But one of the requirements for becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry is dedication to the weekly show, and that means making regular appearances on the Opry stage – something that many artists who live in California aren’t able to do.
And as Pardi noted during his press conference, back before the internet the only way to hear the Opry live was on radio stations that weren’t available in California. (As he put it, antennas only reach so far).
That means that Jon Pardi had the opportunity to become the first native of the Golden State to become a member of the Opry, a fact – and a responsibility – that wasn’t lost on Jon when we asked him about it before the show:
“I guess it’s a piece of the puzzle that is being put together.
A lot of people don’t know about California. They all think it’s what’s in the news. Where I’m from is big agriculture, it’s big farm towns, hence a lot of country music…
I was raised on country music, and to move here in 2008 in Nashville and make all that happen and still represent somewhere I come from, I’m proud of that because they always say never forget your roots. I feel like this is never forgetting your roots even if the California thing seems far away.”
Pardi was joined on his big night by a killer lineup of artists – names like Rhett Akins, Ella Langley, Ian Munsick, Chase Rice, bluegrass legend Rhonda Vincent, and Hall of Fame songwriter Dean Dillon.
But the night was all about Jon Pardi, who brought the crowd to their feet when he walked onstage and kept them there until he walked off as an official member of the Grand Ole Opry.
And when it came time to do the honors, there was one more surprise in store for Jon: Opry member Garth Brooks was on hand to officially welcome the singer into the family.
Garth recalled being impressed with Pardi when he opened for him at a stadium show, in front of a crowd of 85,000:
“Big boy here, I’m going to watch him fold like an aluminum can under pressure…
By the second song, this guy had ’em eating out of his hand.”
And he then made it official in a way that only Garth could:
“This is me and you, joined in holy matrimony, shared by the common love of country music.”
Pardi then gave his first official speech as a member of the Grand Ole Opry:
“I love the Opry. I love being part of the family. The future is so bright.”
And with that, Pardi ended the night with “Head Over Boots.” It was not only his first performance in the circle as a member of the Grand Ole Opry – it was the first EVER performance in the circle for a member of the Grand Ole Opry from the state of California.
It only took 98 years, but I’d say Pardi’s pretty happy that they waited for him to be the first.