The Opry NextStage Live in Concert event was held at the Grand Ole Opry House on Sunday (Nov. 20), with performances by the Class of 2022, which includes Breland, Conner Smith, Elvie Shane, Nate Smith, Restless Road.
Hosted by Class of 2021 alum Priscilla Block, the showcase shined a spotlight on the next generation of country stars. The Opry NextStage series helps fans find their favorite new artists through live performances, digital, radio, and television broadcasts.
Nashville native and Opry NextStage artist Conner Smith wrote his first song at 7 years old after visiting the Grand Ole Opry for the first time and seeing Hal Ketchum perform. Smith signed his first publishing deal while still in high school, at just 16 years old. It wasn’t long before he signed a record deal right out of high school with The Valory Music Co., an imprint of the Big Machine Label Group.
In 2022, Smith released his debut album, Didn’t Go Too Far, which includes his breakout hit “I Hate Alabama.”
Smith made his Opry debut on May 28, 2022, where he played his first top-40 single, “Learn From It” and a song he wrote for his great-grandparents at age 14, “Jesus & Me.” At the end of his performance, Smith received a standing ovation.
“Being at the Opry, every time it’s like walking into a holy church,” he tells the Opry. “There are a few moments in your life that you’re standing in a moment like, ‘I will truly never forget this.’ That was one of the best moments of my life.”
During his Opry NextStage performance, Smith recalled his debut on the hallowed stage and how the next day, he wrote a love letter to the beloved institution. His new song “Dear Grand Ole Opry” earned him another standing ovation from the captivated crowd.
Smith shared a video of the performance of the song on Instagram the next day, saying, “I wrote this love letter to the opry in my truck the day after my debut. Got to play it for em last night ❤️”
The lyrics pay homage to the spiritual power of the Grand Ole Opry:
You were the birth of country music,
Country music was the birth of me.
So you know I owe it all to you and all your history.
So to the church of country music, how many souls have you saved?
Smith goes on to thank the Opry for “living the three chords and the truth.”
In addition to being an Opry NextStage Artist, Smith is also one of Spotify’s Hot Country Artists to Watch for 2022, Amazon Music’s 2022 Amazon Artist to Watch, and he’s on the list of Artists to Watch 2022: The Pandora Ten List, the only country artist on the list.
This summer and fall, Smith joined Thomas Rhett on his “Bring The Bar To You” Tour, which was a full-circle moment for the singer-songwriter. “When I was 16, I took a girl on a date to a Thomas Rhett show in Nashville,” Conner laughed. “And the next Monday at school, she broke up with me in the high school parking lot. Which is hilarious because it’s just like five years later, I’m on the tour. It’s those little moments that are just crazy to me, to realize how far my dreams have come.”