Eric Church was a young newcomer whose debut album was still more than two months away from release when he made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry on April 1, 2006, but he still made quite an impression.

The North Carolina native released the lead single from Sinners Like Me, "How 'Bout You," on Jan. 30, 2006, and that's the song he performed during his first time on the hallowed stage of the country music institution on April 1.

Porter Wagoner and Jim Ed Brown introduced the future superstar to the stage that night, and after playing his debut single, Church's performance took an unexpected turn. In a precursor of the bold, unpredictable live shows that would become his signature, Church and his band segued into the Leadbelly classic "Black Betty."

"It was funny, we thought, 'Can we do Ram Jam at the Opry?' It was a last-minute decision before the late show, right before we walked out on stage," Church tells GAC (quote via the Boot). "I told the guys, 'I'll give you a thumbs up or thumbs down.' So I gave them a thumbs up, and we went for it. And the crowd loved it."

Church's grandmother had listened to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio all her life, and he had grown up steeped in its traditions. The night was especially sweet because she was among his guests in the audience for his debut.

"It was great for me — a dream come true. But I think it was more gratifying for me because my grandmother was there," Church recalls. "She [was] 84 years old [at the time], and for her, there is nothing bigger than the Opry. Her quote is, 'The Opry's bigger than Oprah.' I was really glad she got to be there. And Porter Wagoner is one of her favorites, so for Porter to introduce her grandson on the Opry was a really cool moment."

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