Carin León Earns a Superstar’s Welcome During His Grand Ole Opry Debut: ‘This Place Is Magical’

The 4,300-capacity Grand Ole Opry crowd gave Mexican singer-songwriter Carin León a superstar’s welcome as he made his debut at the Nashville venue on Friday night (Feb. 23).

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León had one of Billboard’s top 10 Highest-Grossing Latin Tours of 2023 with his Colmillo de Leche Tour, which played Los Angeles’ Crypto.com Arena and Houston’s Toyota Center, among other venues. He was one Billboard’s Top Latin Artists on the 2023 year-end chart (based on song and album performance, as well as touring). Last year, Leon notched some of his biggest Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart hits, including “Primera Cita,” and the Grupo Frontera collaboration “Que Vuelvas.” León and Maluma joined forces for “Según Quien,” which topped both Billboard’s Latin Airplay chart and Regional Mexican Airplay chart in December. This past year, he won a Latin Grammy for best Norteño album (Colmillo de Leche)

Screams of adulation and a sea of cell phone lights greeted the León as he took the stage before a crowd that was on their feet and singing along with every (primarily Spanish) lyric he sang. Leon played his 2022 hit “No Es Por Aca,” followed with a solo version of “The One (Pero No Como Yo),” his duet with Kane Brown, which the pair debuted earlier in the week at the 2024 Premio Lo Nuestro. He closed with “Primera Cita,” a song which marked a milestone moment of experimentation for León, who blended Mexican and the soulful sounds of Memphis and New Orleans.

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At one point, as León stood on the Opry’s famed circle of wood, part of the Opry stage that had originally been in the floor of the Opry’s previous location at the Ryman Auditorium, he knelt down and placed a kiss on the floor.

“This moment is a dream come true,” he said later from the stage. “This moment is important for my music, for my country. Having all the family here and having country music accepting us, for us to be here, this place is magical. I hope to come back here a thousand times more. Thank you so much for this moment.”

He exited the stage, but only momentarily — as the screams and chants of the crowd quickly demanded that he return to the stage for another song. León obliged with an encore, and in the process, became one of the rare artists making their debut Opry performance to make an encore performance — joining a lineage of artists whose debut Opry performances included encores, including Josh Turner’s 2001 Opry debut, the 2016 Opry debut of rock legend John Fogerty (who had joined Brad Paisley on the Opry stage), and of course, Hank Williams, Sr.’s 1949 debut, when he was brought back onstage for six encores.

Just offstage, his “The One” collaborator Brown and singer-songwriter Leon Bridges stood among a throng of other supporters witnessing León’s Opry debut.

Earlier in the evening, seated backstage in the Little Jimmy Dickens-themed dressing room 3 at the Grand Ole Opry, León was filled with gratitude — and maybe a slight bit of nervousness — as he spoke of achieving his dream of playing on the Grand Ole Opry.

“Being here at the Grand Ole Opry, for every artist, it’s more than realizing a dream,” he told Billboard. “For me as a Mexican, for me coming from another genre, they are living the dream. We never realized that we would be here, even as an audience member, but now being here playing, it makes me so proud.

“I was walking around earlier, looking at the photos and the [artist] quotes that are on the walls. I cried four times reading what they said, because they felt like I do. It made me feel so humble and reminded me why I started doing music. This place is magical for every musician. The history, it’s a love letter to music and you feel like you’ve entered a sacred place.”

Since releasing a slate of live albums in 2018, followed by his full-length debut, El Malo, in 2019, León’s music has increasingly enveloped an array of sounds, among them folk, flamenco and country. He previously covered songs by Johnny Cash and Chris Stapleton and teamed with Walker Hayes for an Amazon Music collaboration.

Of his new collaboration with Brown, León says, “One of the first names in country music to collaborate with that somebody put on the table was Kane Brown. It was 2018 or so when I started hearing his music. He’s like the link for our genre and country music to happen. I met him and his team, and he’s such a humble person and good guy and one of my friends in this game that is music. I’m very happy that he believed in our music and it is the perfect time for this to happen.”

On April 26, León will make his debut performance at country music festival Stagecoach, performing on a bill that also includes Eric Church and Jelly Roll. He will be the first Spanish-language act to perform at both Stagecoach and Coachella.

“It’s unbelievable for me,” he says of those upcoming performances. “I’m kind of nervous about that show because it’s a different audience, but we’re going to enjoy it so much and I’ll get to see some of my idols, too. It’s a place where I’m going to celebrate what’s happening with our music and this musical revival. You can see less limits on every music. People are hungry for good music and artists don’t want to fit in a box. If you have a great song, you can upload it with just a guitar and video and you cannot deny what’s good.”

León, as well as his fellow artists including Bad Bunny, Maluma, Karol G and Grupo Frontera, are leading Latin music’s current global success. Latin and country were two of the genres with the most percentage gains in 2023, according to Luminate’s 2023 Year-End report, with Latin up 21.9% to 75.26 million units in 2023 and country rising 21.8% to 92.19 million units in 2023.

The crux of León’s country music-focused moments — the Opry debut, Stagecoach, the collaboration with Brown — is León’s in-the-works, full-fledged country album.

“This is one of my wishes of my life, to do this project,” he says. “I think this is the correct time to do it, and we are working on it. We are on the song selection process, but there are a lot of names we’re looking at.”

Similar themes are woven through the lyrics of both Regional Mexican and country — tales of love, family, and cowboy/vaquero culture. Leon’s upcoming country project could prove a key moment in further uniting the two genres. Historically, country has seen occasional moments of Latin artists finding successes on the country charts, with Johnny Rodriguez and Freddy Fender both earning No. 1 country hits in the 1970s, while in the 1990s, Tejano music star Emilio Navaira, band The Mavericks and Rick Trevino saw country radio successes.

More recently, artists including Frank Ray, Leah Turner, Valerie Ponzio and Veronique Medrano are making their own fusions of Latin and country sounds. Additionally, León’s collaboration with Brown extends a lineage of Latin artists collaborating with country artists, from Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson earning a Country Music Association Award for collaborating and earning a country hit with “To All the Girls I Loved Before” (they would later also record “Spanish Eyes” in 1989). David Bisbal, Enrique Iglesias and Becky G are among other Latin artists who have collaborated with country artists in recent years.

“Everybody wants to be a cowboy right now, everybody wants to do country right now,” León says. “People are doing rap they are getting rap touched by Mexican music or touched by country music. They are wearing the hats, the boots. Louis Vuitton’s last collection, it’s all cowboy stuff. We as Americans, as Mexicans, we want to feel proud of what we are for. We don’t want to emulate what everybody’s doing — these are our roots. Our hat is what we are, our boots are what we are. I’m very happy that people are looking to our culture in such a big way that is happening right now.”

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