As Gray took the stage at the Grand Ole Opry Thursday, June 30, he brought with him this sense of calm and overwhelming intimacy. On stage, a giant rug was sprawled out beneath him and his five-piece band. Everything was placed close together, giving the stage the inviting, cozy, living room feel.
To further enhance the mood, dim lamps glowed from points across the stage and audience members snuggled up close to loved ones in the blackness. All that was left to complete the ambiance was the music, and the audience knew Gray would not disappoint.
“Hello, and welcome to the Grand Ole Opry,” Gray said before easing into his first song. “It’s a real honor and privilege to be here. It’s a beautiful sounding place. Ever since sound check this afternoon, I’ve been wanting to play.”
He pointed out that he was wearing his best shoes, a decision he said he felt obligated to make after seeing the Porter Wagoner room backstage, complete with its shimmering rhinestone toilet. This was the Grand Ole Opry after all, a hallowed place where the list of legends runs longer than a Tennessee summer.
Gray charmed his audience with his lulling English accent, his organic songs and, perhaps most surprisingly, his humor. Turns out he’s quite the jokester. One audience member, who did have a tinge of inebriation in his voice, screamed out partway through the set, “Hell yeah!”
At first, Gray shot back with, “You’ve been paid to say that” and then reassured the audience, saying, “He works here.” The two had a stage-to-audience running dialogue the rest of the night, the guy popping in and out and Gray always replying with a witty remark that kept his enthusiastic audience on their toes and laughing.
Taking advantage of the lighthearted mood, someone yelled out “Free Bird!” between songs, and Gray replied, “Free Bird? Hell yeah!” Someone else chimed in with, “Welcome to Nashville.”
At one point during the show, Gray was playing an incredibly tranquil song, and the backdrop was an ocean blue, making the audience feel like they were under water. Gray kept whispering “Shhhhh, shhhhh” into the microphone, and the effect was relaxing to say the least. The guy in the seat next to me leaned over and said, “If he says ‘Shhhhh’ one more time, I might actually fall asleep.”
About midway through the show, Gray did a short acoustic set with just him and his guitar on stage. When he unleashed his hit song “Babylon” in a stripped-down, acoustic form, the entire audience joined him in singing, turning the Opry House into one giant stage where Gray was the lead singer and the crowd offered supporting vocals and harmonies.
Before playing “Only the Wine,” Gray warned, “When I play this without the full band, the lyrics just sound a lot more hopeful.” He added jokingly, “So I'm trying to do something about that, but until then, you will just have to put up with the hopefulness, OK?”
Leading into his last number, he said, “I know you have had some water problems in this building, but I’m going to finish with this song.” Gray, who was slated to play the Opry last year but had to change venues when the Opry flooded, finished the night to the sound of “Sail Away,” taking his audience with him and rounding out another successful David Gray therapy session.