Mark Wills was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry earlier this year, marking one of the biggest career milestones of his life. The 45-year-old is still reflecting on the significance of the event, and his gratitude at being part of such a historic institution.
"Early on in my career, back in '96, '97, '98, '99, even in 2000 up into 2004 or '05, we were on the road every Friday and Saturday night," Wills reflected to PopCulture.com. "And I was based in Atlanta, which is only three and a half hours from [Nashville], but still, that's three and a half hours. So in the early stages of my career, I never played the Opry. I loved the Opry and I always wanted to, but when you're gone Friday and Saturday nights every week, it makes it difficult.
"So throughout I guess probably 2007, '08, we really started focusing on the Opry as something that we were trying to give back and to play some more of that traditional type stuff," he continued. "And the Opry is truly about the most traditional type of show that our industry has. It's 94 years old. So we started playing the Opry as much as we could, every weekend. My band's based here. Every weekend that we had to play the Opry, we would come and play it."
The night Wills was invited to join, right before Christmas, Wills thought he was there to help honor guitarist Jimmy Capps, who was celebrating his 60th year playing on the Opry stage.
"When the opportunity came up to honor him at the Opry, I wanted to be a part of it," Wills recalled. "That's why I was there. I wasn't there for me. So I go out and play my two songs. I look at the sheet, and on the sheet it says Vince Gill, Mark Wills. And I'm thinking, 'Okay, that's kinda cool, because Vince is gonna close out the evening with some Christmas songs or something like that.'
"We played 'Jacob's Ladder' and '19 Somethin',' and as I go to walk offstage, Vince says to me, 'Hey, man,come back and sing one more song with me,'" he recounted. "And I'm like, 'What are we gonna sing?' And he goes, 'I don't know, 'Pocket Full of Gold.' And as I walk offstage and I take my guitar off, I'm like, 'It's Christmas. Why are we singing Pocket Full of Gold'?' But I love that song. And I've analyzed it now throughout time, but at that point, it just didn't make sense. It didn't really shock me. He starts talking about me."
Wills was still unaware what was happening, and was actually taking a selfie, when Gill made the surprising invitation.
"It blew me away," admitted Wills. "It shocked me so bad that if you watch that video, you see the truest rush of emotion that I think I've ever had publicly in my life. I lost it. I mean, truly lost it. Like, my legs buckled."
Wills tried to make the most of the once in a lifetime event when he was officially inducted, honoring the legends who have gone on before him.
"I wanted to bring a piece of the past with me," Wills explained. "I wore one of George Jones's stage coats to go on stage, to do all the media stuff behind the scenes. It was a beautiful evening. A lot of times when you're doing an induction or something like that, there's a lot of fanfare that goes on around it. I didn't want a lot of fanfare around it. I wanted people that had supported my career. I wanted people that had been my friends because we'd been doing this a long time. So there was a lot of folks came from home."
Wills was joined for the induction by his family, as well as current and former band and crew members.0comments
"It was probably one of the most special nights of my entire life," Wills reflected. "Not just my career, but entire life."
Photo courtesy of the Grand Ole Opry