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EIU 360

Grand Ole Opry Dan

EIU grad 'Opry Dan' Rogers is an omnipresent figure at the world's premier country music venue

In the world of country music, no venue matches the iconic status of the Grand Ole Opry. It’s a dream gig for artists in the genre, their resumes incomplete without an appearance on the legendary Opry stage.

The Opry isn’t just a “dream gig” for musicians, though. For the better part of two decades there’s been an Eastern Illinois University connection roaming the Opry, working in the background with a hand in nearly everything that happens at this Nashville, Tenn., landmark and loving every minute of it.

That connection is Dan Rogers, better known as “Opry Dan” by those he encounters regularly as director of marketing and communication at the world-famous country music sanctuary. He attended grad school at Eastern before eventually landing in Nashville a few years later.

“I've been here 17 years now,” said Rogers, who hails from the Clay County village of Xenia and attended grad school at EIU. “I came to the Opry because I love country music. I love the history of country music, and I really wanted to be a part of making this 90-year tradition last even longer – propel it into its next 90 years.”

Rogers got his start at the Opry as a graduate intern and in his words “just never left.”

“I really wanted to be here,” said Rogers. “It's really hard to break into the music industry in Nashville, just because in many ways it's a dream job for a lot of people. So you are competing with a lot of people.”

“So I came in at minimum wage, and with a lot to learn. But fortunately for me I was given the opportunity to learn on the job. I started as an intern, became an assistant marketing manager, then a marketing manager, then a senior marketing manager, then a director of marketing and communication.”

And what does the director of marketing and communication do? There’s not a particularly simple answer to that question.

“I'm excited to say that there is no real typical day,” said Rogers. “It’s a crazy mix of working, of writing, answering telephone calls, working in digital media, working with artists … and every once in a while finding a seat and watching this great show take place before your eyes.”

It’s not just a 9-to-5 sort of job, either. There’s plenty for Opry Dan to do on the night of a show.

“I'll be doing a lot of different things, depending upon the night,” said Rogers. “We might be taking photos and tweeting those to more than a million people, we might be interacting with some of the artists on the shows. Bringing media folks from the back of the house out front to talk to Ray Bensen from Asleep at the Wheel, or Brad Paisley, or what have you. Working with sponsors who are visiting, maybe helping with some radio promotions, lots of different things in terms of marketing as it can be a catchall term.”

Rogers puts in long hours – this much is evident. It doesn't seem to bother him too much.

“This job and the Grand Ole Opry are very rewarding for someone who has a great interest in it,” said Rogers. “If you love this family of artists, and employees, it's easy to want to come and really spend a lot of your life doing what we do.

“You look out in the audience from show to show and week to week and see people who have literally waited all of their lives dreaming of coming to the Opry … and it never gets old backstage either, in that almost every week – at least once a month – someone who has dreamed of a career in country music sees that dream comes true and is playing the Grand Ole Opry for the first time.

“Some people are almost stoic about it, and are very excited that this dream has come true, and other people are fine right up until the minute they are introduced, and then they might lose it walking on stage. More often than not, someone gives a stellar performance and kind of collapses as they come off stage. And I mean there's no price you pay for that. It's just a great thing to be a part of. Who wouldn't want to help make people's dreams come true, you know?”

Looking back at his time at EIU, Rogers remembers putting in a grad school application and building a special connection with Dr. Charles Eberly, a now-retired member of the Counseling and Student Development faculty.

“He's the reason I was (at EIU),” said Rogers. “I applied to school at Eastern, and I'm sure I got a telephone call from him saying ‘I've looked at your information, this is the place for you. You need to be here, for your sake and for ours.’

“And it was true. He was very helpful throughout that entire year. Many is the time I would run by his office to turn in a paper, to ask him about a position in a school or what have you, and he would say ‘I'm going to lunch. Let's go to lunch. You want to go to lunch?’

"And that is a whole different experience in terms of really getting to know someone. You really feel like this is valuable information because he's taking time – his personal time – to share this with me.”

Aside from the connection with Dr. Eberly, Rogers says his year at EIU served an effective preparatory role in his professional development.

“I don't know that I realized it at the time, but looking back (EIU) served as a great bridge between an undergraduate experience and a professional career,” said Rogers. “I expected more of myself, and I was really expected to lead people in the different extracurricular activities I was doing as opposed to just being just an undergraduate student. That really helped me to become the communications professional I am today.”

A communications professional who’s loving every minute of his career.

“I'm absolutely passionate about my work here at the Grand Ole Opry,” said Rogers. “I love knowing that what we are doing is hopefully perpetuating this show well into the future. I love looking out and seeing families in the crowd and knowing that maybe that kid is like me and will grow up and love being here, love being a part of the show.

“It's like nothing else on earth. I often laugh and think there's probably a reason we are the only place on earth that does it – because it's not the easiest show in the world to put together – but I love that its so completely unique and that you can't go anywhere else on earth and see something like it, and also that if you see this show, you know where it's coming from and where it is. That it is Nashville, Tenn., and it's the Grand Ole Opry.”

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