Since the origin of the Grand Ole Opry as an institution in 1925 and the move from the Ryman Auditorium to the Opry House in 1974, countless incredible collaborations have graced the famed circle of wood that acts as the gathering place for members and guests. On the evening of Sunday, February 19th, though, the Nashville stage became home to one of the most wide-reaching and eclectic gathering of names in the building’s storied history, all in honor of the late Leslie Jordan.
The beloved actor, comedian, and singer connected with audiences through many different mediums. For some, he was the guy who made them laugh over Instagram or TikTok in the darkest hours of the pandemic; to others, he was the character actor who stole the show in Will & Grace, American Horror Story, or Call Me Kat. And to many Nashville residents and visitors to the Opry, he was a budding country music star — Jordan adored the Opry and many of its members, and before his death in October at the age of 67, even released his own album, 2021’s Company’s Comin’, co-produced with Travis Howard and Danny Myrick, local staples of the scene.
The full guest list for the tribute to a life well-lived included actors who connected with Jordan on various sets, such as Mayim Bialik, Jim Parsons, and Max Greenfield (of New Girl fame), comedian Leanne Morgan (our host and MC for the night), and many, many musicians: Eddie Vedder, Maren Morris, Tanya Tucker, Billy Strings, Ryan Hurd, Brothers Osborne, Brittney Spencer, Lukas Nelson, Jake Wesley Rogers, Ashley McBryde, Jelly Roll, Lainey Wilson, Ruby Amanfu, and more artists reported for duty, backed by a house band that featured three ACM Instrumentalist of the Year winners.
To say Leslie Jordan would have been thrilled and delighted by the turnout is an understatement — not only was the bill one of the more unique lineups in recent memory, but the crowd reflected Jordan’s ability to transcend. The sold-out crowd of local guests, fans of his television appearances, fellow members of the LGBTQ+ community, or folks just passing through who grabbed tickets to the Opry for the night (a more common occurrence than one might think) was a reflection of the man who was unapologetically himself, regardless of the space he inhabited.
The show arrived at an interesting point in Nashville’s story, too, specifically in the world of country music; the stage reflected the kind of diversity that sometimes makes it feel like the genre is moving in a positive direction, with artists of color and vocal members of the LGBTQ+ community reminding the audience that country music, at its best, is a place for everyone, as long as they have a good story to share. A pair of drag queens in attendance, coiffed and styled to the heavens, snapped photos with guests during the show’s intermission, while Tennessee lawmakers are actively working to try to pass a bill that would ban drag shows in public places.
Many of the evening’s best moments came from the kinds of artists who are still not welcomed by the mainstream in Nashville’s primary industry. Rising star Jake Wesley Rogers earned a standing ovation with a stunning performance of his track “Jacob from the Bible,” while Fancy Hagood dedicated a chill-inducing take on Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High on that Mountain” to queer people throughout the state. Brothers Osborne’s T.J. Osborne memorably came out in 2021, and the duo was received with all the warmth and hospitality Nashville does best.