LUCAS L. JOHNSON II
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Darius Rucker's surprise invitation to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry is a moment he says he will always cherish -- and now fans will be able to share the experience with him over and over again.
The singer, who rose to fame as the frontman for South Carolina rockers Hootie & The Blowfish, began pursuing his lifelong passion for country music a few years ago. Now he is the video host for one of two new tours that have been added to the Opry's backstage tour line-up.
The tours are the "VIP Behind The Opry Curtain Tour" and the "Opry House Post-Show Tour," which Rucker hosts.
"They're going to get to relive that night, and that moment" he was asked to join the Opry, said Rucker, who was inducted shortly after the invitation last October. "But they're also going to see some other great things behind the scenes."
For the behind-the-curtain tour, a limited number of guests go backstage and get an intimate look at the inner workings of the Opry moments before the big curtain goes up.
"The Grand Ole Opry is a great show on stage, but it's a whole other world backstage," said Brenda Colladay, who has been the Opry museum's curator for 16 years.
"It puts people right in the thick of ... all of those different artists, and musicians and square dancers, and everybody backstage. It's an exciting time."
Following Opry performances on certain nights, Rucker will share with guests some of his favorite backstage moments and memories as they visit areas occupied just minutes before by artists on that night's show.
"Backstage at the Opry is awesome," Rucker said. "You never know who's going to show up, who's going to be standing around; and all the great pictures and all the great memories."
Among the Rucker-hosted videos are "Opry home movies", which share video footage of Opry debuts, including Vince Gill, Alan Jackson and Kenny Chesney, as well as vintage performances by George Jones and Dolly Parton. There's also an array of Opry fashions and hairstyles through the years.
And then there's that night the 47-year-old Rucker was asked to be an Opry member, the third black performer to hold Opry membership, joining Country Music Hall of Fame members DeFord Bailey and Charley Pride.
Rucker has had a multiplatinum, award-winning run since his decision to pursue country music. He performed at the Opry that night before receiving the visit from unannounced guest Brad Paisley, who surprised him with the invitation.
"That day is still one of those days that I remember like it was yesterday," said Rucker, who released his third country album in May. "That was probably the first day I felt I was part of country music."
Bill Cody is an on-air personality for country radio station WSM-AM and an Opry announcer. He recalled the conversation he had with the Opry's general manager leading up to Rucker's invitation.
"Pete Fisher came over to me shortly before the show ... and said, 'Tonight we've got some plans and it's top secret, and here's what's going down: Darius is going to be asked to become the next member of the Opry,'" said Cody, who will also share Opry moments by video during the tours. "And I'm like, oh, wow!"
Other areas and items that can be seen on all three tours include a sampling of 18 dressing rooms that are decorated with a unique theme to honor Opry greats like Minnie Pearl, Porter Wagoner and Jimmy Dickens, as well as Studio A, where "Hee Haw" and other TV shows have been filmed over the years.
If You Go...
GRAND OLE OPRY TOURS: http://www.opry.com/shows/TourTheOpryHouse.html . Nashville, Tenn. Two new tours offered to ticket-holders for that night's performance.
--Behind the Opry Curtain VIP tour, $90, ages 12 and over only, offered about a half-hour before performances.
--Opry House Post-Show tour, ages 12 and over, $21.50, and ages 4 to 11, $16.50, offered immediately following performances.
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