But many still remember the Ryman fondly, as the site of the Opry's hey days. Returning to the Opry was a much publicized and anticipated event. Lots of new artists were invited, and the performances attracted large crowds. Fisher calls that move a "win-win for artists and fans" and looks to do more at the Ryman in the future.
Fisher thinks his changes are working, pointing out that several new artists appear each weekend.
"In the past four months, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Reba (McEntire), Vince (Gill), Jo Dee Messina, Chely Wright, Mark Wills, Brad Paisley have all performed."
"As we look forward, we want to make it an environment where artists want to beWe'll look for member candidates who are committed to standing by the Opry...it's not all about making the highest profile artists in our industry members...commitment is most important."
Expandng the Opry
Fisher says a big challenges to growing the Opry is one of distribution, such as getting the Opry to new markets and to new listeners beyond the reach of Nashville and WSM.
The Opry and WSM hooked up for internet broadcasts as of June 17.
In today's marketing terms, Fisher wants to "bring country music's most recognized brand' to the worldWe recognize the importance of being on the internet. The internet relies on strong brand recognition. The Opry has that."
Conlee agrees, "Being in the middle ground, between the brand new and older acts, I'd like to see Opry become a national or international show...I'd like to see it syndicated on FM radio. Internet will eventually answer that."
Conlee says "spreading it out to a worldwide audience" is the key to the Opry's continued success.
"If you know you're on worldwide, you going to be more on your toesit might induce a hot act like to show up a little more often, if they have a new record on the way, and knowing they were playing to a worldwide audience, it could help get it off to a start."
This might be the incentive artists need to give higher priority to playing the Opry.
Not everything that Fisher and Opry management have undertaken have met with positive reaction. Recently five long-time members of the Opry staff band were let go, as was veteran Opry act, The Four Guys, the only Opry-based act ever to have had a hit.
Some older Opry members saw these moves as a sign that management was ready to make sweeping changes to the core of the show.
Most members remain confident though, that Fisher has the Opry's best interests at heart. Most agree with Wagoner who says, "I'm in agreement with most of the things they're doing. We've got to improve the Opry."
Fisher's plan is to "significantly grow the institution," by helping launch to new careers, stand by established careers, as well as preserving the heritage." He says the Opry is "committed to the past, present and the future."
Photo of PorterWagoner by Morello/Ghergia