NASHVILLE — Though Brad Paisley is a Best New Artist nominee for what many call the music industry's highest honor — a Grammy — he sees his upcoming induction as a member of the Grand Ole Opry as the supreme career tribute.
"It's like an honor, and an award that's bestowed on you with conditions, and I like that," he said, referring to the fact that Opry membership demands showing up there several times a year. "You know, all those awards that you win — you work, work, work, and then you've got it — and then what? Those awards are sort of hollow.
"But with something like this, it's truly one of those gifts that keep on giving," he said. "As a new artist, they tell me that I can help the Opry by being a part of it and adding some new blood. It's nice that they think that."
Paisley — who's up against Shelby Lynne, Sisqó, Jill Scott and Papa Roach at the Grammys, set for Wednesday in Los Angeles — will be inducted to the Opry on Saturday.
Since his Who Needs Pictures (RealAudio excerpt of title track) debuted on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart in June 1999, Paisley's star has been in ascendancy. He won the CMA Horizon Award as the outstanding new artist of 2000.
He first played the Opry as a guest in May 1999, and has been back to perform many times since. In December, he was surprised onstage at the Opry by Bill Anderson, Little Jimmy Dickens and Jeannie Seely with news that he was being invited to join the 76-year-old country music institution. Within minutes of the announcement, a friend in his hometown of Glen Dale, West Virginia, put up a sign at the town's city limits that read, "Home of Brad Paisley, Member of the Grand Ole Opry."
The following weekend, just before Christmas, he returned to the Opry, just to hang out. "I got in my car and went out to the Opry and sat backstage on a bench and talked to everybody," he said. "The week before I had been swamped, but this time no one knew I was coming, so I got to go hang out in Bill's [Anderson] dressing room and then I went and ate dinner with Jean Shepherd and her band. Jeannie Seely and I sat and looked through this book she had written. And I got to hear a bunch of stories from Billy Walker about the days of touring with Hank Williams. That was a great, therapeutic weekend. Man, I love that place and what it's about."
Paisley's next project is performing on George Strait's all-stadium Country Music Festival tour, beginning March 24 in Tampa, Florida.
"One of the best things about that tour," Paisley said, "is that George is saying there'll be some hang-out time, and that's something that would be priceless. Most people never get that chance with him. Plus, this is really a storybook tour. Country music is really well represented on it. You've got western swing with Asleep at the Wheel, you've got Alan [Jackson] and George, who are the benchmark for traditional country singers; you've got Lee Ann [Womack] and Sara [Evans], who are two of the finest female singers out there; you've got a little of the pop-country thing with Lonestar; and then you've got a wannabe like me."
Paisley's second album, Part 2, is due in late spring. On Friday, the eve of his Opry induction, Paisley will chat online with fans on www.opry.com from 8 to 9 p.m. CT.