A version of this story is set to appear in Thursday’s The Oklahoman.
Rascal Flatts invited to join the Grand Ole Opry
The contemporary country band, which includes Picher-bred guitarist Joe Don Rooney, received the surprise invitation Tuesday night from Oklahoma native Vince Gill.
After more than a decade as one of the format’s top acts, Rascal Flatts has received one of country music’s most prestigious honors: an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry.
Oklahoma native Vince Gill surprised the contemporary country trio, which includes Picher-bred guitarist Joe Don Rooney, with the news Tuesday night during the group’s Opry performance.
“Hey, we usually don’t like surprises, but I love this surprise — and it only cost us 500 bucks,” said Rooney, who was visibly emotional but maintained his sense of humor.
Rascal Flatts — Rooney, singer Gary LeVox and bassist Jay DeMarcus — had just finished playing their signature smash “God Bless the Broken Road” when longtime Opry member Gill snuck onto the stage, prompting Rooney to joke, “I got a new guitar tech, by the way, guys.”
An avid golfer, Gill initially pretended that he was there to collect $500 the trio owed him after placing a friendly wager on a golf game last week.
“You would think that after hit record after hit record and millions of records sold, they’d come up with the 500 bucks, but no, no, no,” cracked Gill, who hails from Oklahoma City.
After he and Rooney teasingly played out the joke for a few minutes, Gill extended the Opry invitation, which had all three band members in tears.
“I came out for one reason only … and gratefully and gladly so, to invite you guys to be the next members of the Grand Ole Opry,” Gill said, as the Opry audience gave a standing ovation. “On behalf of all of us, we’re very, very proud to have you as part of this family.”
After the announcement, the band asked Gill to play an impromptu collaboration of his hit “Whenever You Come Around.”
“Personally, my hero is Vince Gill, and for him to come out here … man, what a surprise,” Rooney said.
The top-selling country group of the last decade, Rascal Flatts becomes the latest in a string of longtime stars, including Tishomingo resident Blake Shelton and The Oak Ridge Boys, to recently receive an invitation to join the Opry.
“You know, we have gotten to do a lot of amazing things in our career, like going to Iraq and visiting our soldiers and selling out arenas, and doing a lot of just magnificent things, things that you can’t even dream that big. God way surpassed our dreams a long time ago,” LeVox said.
“But all three of us grew up listening to the Opry: Jay with his grandfather, me with my grandmother, and Joe Don with his entire family. You can’t even put into words what this means to us. When we first signed our record deal in 1999, our main goal was we wanted to play the Grand Ole Opry and hopefully someday be members of the Grand Ole Opry.”
Since 2000, Rascal Flatts has sold more than 20 million albums and 25 million digital downloads, scored 13 No. 1 singles and won numerous awards. One of the genre’s biggest touring acts, the group has sold more than 6 million concert tickets and recently ranked No. 5 on Forbes’ list of top-earning country stars.
Despite their successes, the country-pop band told the Associated Press in a 2010 interview that they weren’t sure they would ever be fully accepted by the Nashville music establishment.
“That’s probably the thing that hurts the worst, that people don’t think we’re country,” Rooney told the AP, adding that they dreamed of one day joining the Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame. “If they could cut our hearts open and look at our souls, we are country to the core.”
Rascal Flatts will be formally inducted Oct. 8 during the Opry’s 86th birthday celebration. The show will air live at 8 p.m. Oct. 8 on Great American Country cable channel.
On Oct. 16, the band will play a home state concert for Rooney at WinStar World Casino in Thackerville. For more information, go to www.winstarworldcasino.com.