Leisa Way ‘strikes gold’ with premiere of Opry Gold

MORRISBURG – “Country music is just three chords – and the truth,” music great Kris Kristofferson once said.

And the truth is, Leisa Way and the Wayward Wind Band’s premiere of Opry Gold at Upper Canada Playhouse April 24- May 4, hit a lot of chords with audiences in the packed houses. Based on a rich mixture of classic Grand Ole Opry masters and the next generation of breakthrough country artists, the vibrant show celebrates the music Leisa Way loves.

As the creator of Opry Gold, Leisa (in an earlier interview with the Leader) described herself as a “huge fan of country music…This show highlights all the amazing artists that have played the Opry stage over the years and tells the stories about their connections to the Opry.”

Opry Gold clearly is a labour of love for both Way and her multi-talented band, Bobby Prochaska, Fred Smith, Nathan Smith, Sam Cino and musical arranger Bruce Ley. Fiddles, banjos, drums, keyboard, guitars and bass and harmonica (even the washboard), these artists could play them all. And when they vocalized, the audience was treated to first class harmonies and solos.

Opry Gold took the audience on a journey back through time to the days, in 1925, when Nashville’s radio station WSM became the first all-country music station featuring early stars like Uncle Jimmy Thompson and Grandpa Jones. In 1974, Opryland USA was established as country’s shining star after the music went international.

For many artists, the dream is to just to perform on the Opryland stage. To be inducted into the Hall of Fame is like “making the Olympics.”

Leisa Way’s Opry Gold brought a broad cross-section of great country artists and their songs to the stage.

From classics like “Wabash Cannonball” to ‘country modern’ hits from Faith Hill and Tim McGraw and Shania Twain, the music just kept coming. Toes were tapping all night, and the audience regularly and loudly joined in their favourites.

At the heart of the show was Leisa Way herself.

With her trademark lighting costume and wig changes, she exuberantly rocked the stage as Lady Antebellum, then broke a few hearts with her rendition of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.”

A vocal medley which focused on the songs of Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette was pure and powerful.

“These were the first women to write their own lyrics, the great ladies of country music. They didn’t back away from controversy: they wrote strong songs on the issues that real women faced,” Leisa said.

Opry Gold was a show that also explored the good old “down home humour” that seems to characterize country style.

Whether it was Leisa channeling the one and only Minnie Pearl (“How-Dee!”), or Bobby, Nathan and Fred belting out “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose”, there were gentle overtones of vintage Hee Haw.

Hits like “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” and “Wagon Wheel”, delighted the crowd. Or as Hank Snow once put it, “You have to have smelt a lot of manure before you can sing like a hillbilly.”

Opry Gold found plenty of opportunities to showcase the extraordinary talents of Leisa’s band. Sam Cino did the late Johnny Cash proud with “Ring of Fire” and fiddler Nathan Smith blew the roof off with “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Fred Smith’s rendition of “He Stopped Loving Her Today” was deeply touching, while Bobby Prochaska simply wowed the audience with his delivery of “The Gambler.”

And whether she is soaring in Dolly’s stunning “I Will Always Love You,” or country playful in Shania’s “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?”, there is only one Leisa Way.

What a voice.

Leisa Way’s Opry Gold brings audiences some of the very best of classic and new wave country music. And it doesn’t hurt that this is also a show bursting with a good-natured sense of humour.