The country music opry is a localized music performance tradition that has proliferated in Mississippi and throughout the southeastern United States since the 1980s. Although they vary in content and style from community to community, most opry shows in Mississippi are reoccurring public programs that feature amateur musicians performing a mixture of country, bluegrass, and gospel music for a local audience. The format for the shows is based on historic live country music radio shows, most prominently Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry.
While country music opry shows are not unique to Mississippi, they have taken hold as a popular form of entertainment in rural areas of the state. They are presented in a wide range of facilities, from local armory buildings and community centers to unused machine equipment sheds. They take place almost exclusively on Friday or Saturday evenings and are held at different intervals—weekly, monthly, or at specific times of the year.
Most opry musicians and audience members are older Anglo-Americans based in rural areas. Much of the music performed at the shows is country songs from the 1950s through the mid-1970s. Many shows also include some gospel music (primarily southern gospel) and bluegrass. The music of early rock and roll performers (Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins) and old-time southern fiddle tunes are occasionally heard at opry shows.
Most of the musicians who perform at local opry shows are amateurs from the surrounding area, and many are lifelong musicians. Some have played professionally in the past. The instrumentation used at the shows varies. Those that present country music from the 1950s and 1960s use electric guitars, drums, and electronic keyboards. The shows more focused on bluegrass and old-time string band music generally rely on acoustic instruments.
Most audience members come from the local community, although some shows draw individuals from outside the region. Opry shows in Mississippi are promoted as “family friendly” events and almost always prohibit alcohol. Most shows do not charge admission, but many ask audience members for donations to help pay for utilities and other expenses. Organizers frequently make income by selling food and soft drinks.
Opry shows are found throughout Mississippi, but they are most common in northeastern Mississippi and the Piney Woods region in the southern part of the state. Since most opry-type shows are produced by small groups of individuals, new ones frequently start and existing ones often become inactive.
One of northern Mississippi’s longest-running shows is the Sparta Opry, held every weekend since the late 1980s in the tiny community of Sparta in southern Chickasaw County. Some more recently started shows include the Barnyard Opry outside Brandon and the Mississippi Opry, presented monthly at the community center in Pearl. While some Mississippi opry shows have websites, the most reliable source of information is the calendar listings in small-town weekly newspapers.
- Reita Jackson, Mississippi Magazine (January–February 2007)
- Robbie Ward, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (27 March 2005)