A fan of the Opry — Rugby’s Shjerve has made 20 trips to Nashville to see a host of country music entertainers
When Luella Shjerve heard country music singer Alan Jackson on the radio for the first time in the late 1980s, she knew right from the start that he was a real talent.
Jackson remains Luella’s very favorite of all the performers she’s had the privilege of meeting on her 20 trips to the Grand Ole Opry over the past 20 years.
“Growing up as kids in the country, we’d listen on the radio to all the great old country singers like Eddie Arnold and Hank Williams,” she said. “I always dreamed of going to the Opry to see them in person.”
It wasn’t until many years later that the 76-year-old’s dream came true.
Her first trip was in 1988 with her daughter, Pam Thompson, and Pam’s mother-in-law, Vi Thompson, who is now deceased. Over the years Luella has gone with various family members.
Travel companion or not, she’s not about to miss it. For the past several years she’s boarded a plane to Nashville and rents a car once she gets there. She admits to getting lost a few times over the years, but a simple stop to ask for directions gets her back on her way.
Fan Fair Week
Her first year was a tour of the area and the Opry. Beginning in 1989 and each year since, Luella has planned her annual trip around an Opry event called Fan Fair Week during the first or second week in June, where various country music stars schedule special events specifically for their fan club members. They might include a dinner, autograph and photo session or private concert.
Each year Luella attends various Fan Fair Week activities and three nights of concerts at the Grand Ole Opry. She says it’s quite a dilemma deciding which fan fair parties to attend. She recalls some of her favorites were with John Berry, Trisha Yearwood, Joe Nichols, Darryl Worley and Mark Wills. Another favorite was when Toby Keith held his party on the Andrew Jackson river boat. She plans to attend many stars’ parties again and again, and still there are others she would just love to add to her list.
“Josh Turner — I’ve gotta join his club. And, oh, Brad Paisley, I’d love to see him,” she said.
Even though her favorite performer, Alan Jackson, no longer holds fan parties, she’s grateful to have attended many of his in the past.
Over the years, due to his popularity, it got so that his events were so busy that they would hold a lottery type of event to see just who would get to attend. Only certain lucky people would find out if they had tickets.
“I’d wait and wait each time to see if I got in, and wouldn’t you know it, I did every year. He must have known I was his biggest fan,” Luella joked.
Some things have changed quite a bit since she first began her yearly treks in 1988. Her first year, for instance, a ticket to the Grand Ole Opry was $10 or $12 a night. Now the cost is $47 per night.
Also, sadly, some of the stars she has seen have passed away, such as Roy Acuff, Porter Wagoner and Box Car Willie.
And yet, remarkably, many things have remained the same over the 20 years. There are folks from around the country Luella sees and attends events with every year.
She stays at the same hotel each year, even though it has changed names three times over the years.
“It’s the same owners, pretty much the same workers, even the same cleaning ladies who come and give me a hug every year when I get there,” Luella said. “There are so many nice people. They look out for me and watch for me as I come and go during the week every year.”
There’s even a church near her hotel where she returns year after year. Each year when she shows up, the regulars say, “There’s our North Dakota lady.”
Luella enjoys the people almost as much as the performers who she says are always very nice and down to earth.
She tries to take in five or six Fan Fair parties, tour the Country Music Hall of Fame, and take some bus tours as well as do plenty of sight-seeing.
She likes the parties for the so-called “big stars” just as much as the ones for the up-and-coming stars.
She recalls one year when she met a little-known star named Blake Shelton.
“I always think of those poor new stars that just stand there and wait for fans,” Luella said. “He was so nice. He
talked to us, and when he gave me his autograph I told him that now when he was a big star I’d already have his auto
When Luella ran into the now much more popular and established singer years later, she showed him the photo he had taken with her and reminded him how he stood there so alone. He was amazed at how she remembered that after all those years.
Some of Luella’s collection of photos and memorabilia are now on display at the Heart of America Library.
Luella has many memories of her times, including more than 20 albums filled with photos, three autograph books filled with signatures, and a lot of other memorabilia, including mugs, key chains, brochures, event programs and such.
Luella is gearing up for her 21st consecutive trip to Nashville this summer. Her tickets are already in place. She never knows when she’ll meet a new star to add to her collection.
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