Stepping Into the Circle: Michael Peterson, Buddy Jewell and Jeannie Seely

If you ask nearly any country music dream chaser, most all of them would list playing the Grand Ole Opry, and maybe one day, becoming a member, at or near the top of their goals list.

A select few have had the honor to step into the legendary Circle, and an even more select few will forever have the distinction of membership of country music’s most exclusive club.

Michael Peterson, Buddy Jewell and Jeannie Seely have all graced that sacred stage, with 2023 marking Seely’s 56th year of Opry membership. Read along as each of them, in their own words, describe their unique experiences from Music City’s most hallowed stage.

Michael Peterson

Some Dreams Come True

Sometimes, you can find the biggest dreams in the smallest of things.

I remember the first time I went to the Grand Ole Opry way back in ’91. I bought a ticket and held onto the stub like it was gold. I kept it tucked away in my cowboy hat; a reminder of the big dream I had: to stand on that stage someday.

Fast forward to ’98, I was doing a meet and greet before one of my shows when I met a young boy. He looked up at me with a glimmer in his eye and told me he dreamed of playing the Opry someday. I saw myself in him, and I knew I had to do something.

I pulled off my hat and showed him the ticket stub I’d been carrying around for almost ten years. I told him how I’d never lost sight of my dream, and I encouraged him to do the same. Then, I gave him the stub, hoping it would help him hold onto his own dreams.

It’s funny how life works sometimes. Not long after that moment, I got the call I’d been waiting for. My dream was finally coming true: I was going to perform on that very same stage.

The night of my debut, I felt so many emotions as I approached the “Circle.” I fell to my knees and kissed the spot where so many other dreamers had seen their own dreams come true.

Standing on that stage was a wonder to me, every single time. I’m grateful for the privilege, and I’m thankful that dreams really can come true, no matter how small they may seem.

Buddy Jewell

My Grand Ole Opry journey began in 1974. I was barely 13 years old. My family and I were on our way to visit the newly opened Epcot Center at Disney World that summer. On our way from Arkansas, traveling through Nashville, Mom and Dad decided to go to an afternoon Opry performance. We sat way up in the top of the Opry House, stage right. I remember seeing stars like the Four Guys, Grandpa Jones, Little Jimmy Dickens, Porter Wagoner and many others. It was absolutely magical!

The next time I visited the Opry, I actually got to go backstage. It was September 1st, 1991. I hadn’t moved to Nashville yet. A friend had arranged for us to go backstage. When I walked in, the first person I saw was Jerry Clower. He was larger than life, in his signature big red suit. I asked him if he would autograph my program, and he kindly obliged. He signed it with a big red magic marker, and took up the whole front of the program in doing so! Classic Jerry Clower! 

One of my favorite memories from that night was meeting Mr. Acuff in his dressing room. He was stretched out on his couch in his sock feet, and we were encouraged to go in and ask to get a picture with him. When I asked him if we could please take a photo with him, he smiled and said “Sure!” I replied, “Well don’t bother getting up, Mr. Acuff, we can squat down beside you.” He looked up at me, still smiling with a twinkle in his eye, and said “Son, I don’t get up for none of them!”

Another poignant memory from that evening, tragically, was that it happened to be the same night that Dottie West was critically injured in an automobile accident on her way to perform there. As word spread backstage about the accident, there was a palpable heaviness that seemed to envelop everyone. Sadly, she passed away from her injuries a few days later.

Fast forward five years. I had finally moved to Nashville in 1993 to pursue my dream of securing a recording contract, and had begun to get a lot of work as a studio singer. Out of the blue, I answered my phone one day in 1996 to find Porter Wagoner on the other end of the line. I was in total shock! In fact, I thought it was a joke one of my friends was playing on me. But the more he talked, the more I realized it really was Porter Wagoner! He had heard about me through the grapevine and wanted me to record some demo projects for him. Spending time with him in the studio was such a great honor and pleasure for me, and becoming his friend was a true blessing. He liked my singing so much that he tried several times to arrange for me to sing on the Opry, but was never able to make that happen. However, Porter gave me a standing invitation to visit with him backstage anytime, and I gladly took advantage of it often. One particular night, my mother was with me. We stood on the side of the stage during intermission on a Saturday night. While the curtain was closed, people were walking out and standing behind the iconic WSM microphone in the middle of the “Circle” and getting their pictures taken. I don’t recall who took my picture, but I’ve never forgotten walking out and getting mine taken. Even then, standing on the actual wood that came from the Ryman Auditorium was such a thrill. When I got back, my mom said to me with tears in her eyes, “Son, someday… someday, you’re going to be singing in that circle.” 

Then on May 24th 2003, her prophecy became reality. Three weeks earlier, I was blessed to win the inaugural season of the television show “Nashville Star,” and one of the perks was that I would get to sing on the Grand Ole Opry! Finally! When the big night came, I was beyond excited. I remember being surrounded by my family and lots of friends. Later, someone gave me a great picture of my dad, Porter and me standing on the side of the stage before I went on. Looking at the photo now, you can’t tell who’s more proud, my dad or Porter! I’ve kept that picture on my desk ever since. As I walked on stage, it was absolutely surreal. Almost like I was moving in slow motion. Taking my place that night in the sacred “Circle” where so many of my heroes had performed, I envisioned Marty Robbins, Don Williams, Johnny Cash, George Jones and so many others. And here I was, standing right there where they had stood! It was almost overwhelming. I was so humbled and honored to finally get to have the privilege of standing there in front of a huge Opry crowd and sing “Help Pour out the Rain”(Lacey’s Song),” that I had written about my daughter. As my segment ended and I walked off stage, I was still in a dream like state. I remember people gathering all around me; big smiles and happy tears. What an incredible moment! It wasn’t until a little while later that I found out that I had gotten a standing ovation when I went on stage, and again when I exited. I was so caught up in the moment that I totally missed it. It was literally one of the greatest experiences in my life. If I never get to grace that stage again, I will treasure that incredible moment in time for the rest of my life.

In the 20 years since that first appearance, I’ve been blessed to play the Opry dozens of times. Each one a distinct memorable moment, and each one just as unique and precious to me as the one before. To singers like me, there is no other place on earth that can compare to the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.

Jeannie Seely

My Opry debut looked a little different than these occasions do now! There was very little fanfare, no advance announcement, and most of the cast were not even aware of it. However, that did not take away from my experience. I just remember that every single emotion I had ever known went through me, including excitement, fear, joy, intimidation, and the determination to overcome all the negatives! I had finally gotten the opportunity I had waited and worked for, for so long, and I was going to do it. That was May 28, 1966 at the Ryman Auditorium, and I was in awe. I was standing shoulder to shoulder with some of my heroes that I had never even seen in person, not even across the footlights! Not everyone paid any attention to me, however, the ones who did were very nice and welcoming. That meant the world to me, and remembering that is why I try to extend that welcoming to the new folks coming in today. The entire evening is still a blur, but I do remember that I knew for sure this was everything I had dreamed of, and that I couldn’t wait to be there again. I not only wanted to be performing on that stage, but I wanted to be a part of the ‘family’ that made up the cast. It was obvious how they were all friends, joking with each other, catching up and just enjoying each other in general. That dream became a reality on September 16, 1967, and nothing has been more important to me since then. I am grateful every time I walk through that back door. It’s going on 56 years now, but not long enough!

*Feature image by Chris Hollo and courtesy of*


One thought on “Stepping Into the Circle: Michael Peterson, Buddy Jewell and Jeannie Seely

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  1. I can remember visiting Nashville and going to the Ryman. I walked out on that stage and just stood there thinking of all the stars who had graced that stage and imagining how they must have felt.


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