Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman
The Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN
May 10, 2012

Call it a dream, call it a desire.  I've always wanted to see the Grand Ole Opry at the 'Mother Church of Country Music", the Ryman Auditorium.  That dream came true on May 10, 2012.  A lot of you know me personally, some of you "know" me from my posts in one or more Yahoo groups or from my YouTube videos.  I'm one of  "those".  You know...the 'I like both kinds of AND western' and 'If it ain't country then it ain't music' type.  If you know someone like me then you know it's almost considered a pilgrimage to go to Nashville and see the Opry at The Ryman. 

As we were working our way back east from our time in Arizona and New Mexico we decided that this year was the year we were going to see the Opry at the Ryman.  I checked the show schedule and saw that a show with Larry Gatlin, Mel Tillis and the First Lady of Country Music, Miss Loretta Lynn, was coming up on May 10th.  Checking on-line I found that tickets were the balcony no less!  The tickets were bought, a campground site was reserved at Nashville's Two Rivers RV Park and we turned the Banana Boat east on I-40 and stepped on the gas.

We've been to Nashville a number of times over the years and have seen the Opry at the new Opry House.  We've also been downtown, meaning Lower Broadway or 'Lower Broad' a couple of times.  Recalling how horrendous the traffic was we decided to make use of the Downtown Shuttle Bus service that ran between the hotel/campground area on Music Valley Drive.  For $10 per person round trip that was an easy decision.   The bus was right on time and picked us up right at the campground office at 4pm.  The show didn't start till 7 but we wanted enough time to get downtown, pick up our tickets and grab some dinner.  The driver dropped us off at the corner of 4th and Broadway in front of Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville restaurant. 

We soon found out that the box office didn't open until 5pm so it was off to dinner.  We had originally planned to have dinner at Margaritaville but the place was already busy.  The bus driver mentioned that there was an Old Spaghetti Factory downtown so we headed out to find that.   We found it on 2nd Avenue north about a block north of Broadway next to Coyote Ugly and BB King's Blues Bar but it didn't open till 5pm.  So we did something quite unusual for us...we decided to wait.  I know.  We just don't do that. 

After a great dinner we headed back to the Ryman to pick up our tickets.  Since we had a bit of time before the show started I took short walk down Broadway to take photos and see the sights.  Even at 6pm Lower Broad was very busy.  The bars were full with live music blaring through their open doors and windows.  There was an eclectic mix of tourists, locals, hopefuls, street musicians and panhandlers.  Hawkers were in every doorway trying to entice passers-by to enter their establishments.  Traffic was very heavy with taxis, buses, delivery trucks and private autos.  While the crowd was heavy everyone seemed very mellow.  There were already lines to get into some of the more famous bars like Tootsie's although the longest line by far was outside The Hardrock Cafe.  There must've been a couple of hundred people in that line.

Main entrance off 4th Avenue North

Classic Entrance off 5th Avenue North

I cruised by the original Ernest Tubb's Record Shop, Tootsie's Orchid Lounge and Legends all the time thinking of the history in those buildings.  Many of the buildings on Lower Broad had 2-3 feet of water in them a couple of years ago during the devastating Nashville floods but you'd never know it now.  The collection of country music artifacts, autographed photos and more in Tootsie's would rival any collection in any museum in the world.  I was thinking  of all the greats that had walked those streets before they were greats and the many more who weren't able to grab their brass ring. 

 After heading back to the Ryman we entered and found our 5th row aisle seats in the balcony.  The Ryman was originally built in 1892 by Riverboat Captain Thomas Ryman (1843-1904) and first used to house his Union Gospel Tabernacle.  The pew-style seating reflects that past.  The auditorium holds just over 2300-people and there were very few empty seats for the performance.  The Grand Ole Opry has called four different venues home since the first performance back in 1925 but the Ryman hosted the show for 31-years (1943-1974) and as a result is the best known, loved and revered.  When the Opty moved to the new Opry House on the grounds of the then Opryland Park a circular section of the Ryman stage was cut out and placed front and center on the new stage.  Not many people realize that the Grand Ole Opry is not a country concert but rather a live, 2-hour radio broadcast.  In fact, the Opry is also the longest running live radio show in the world and was and is being carried by The Legend, clear-channel WSM-AM, 650khz.  So in addition to the great entertainment we were actually part of a live radio broadcast.

The announcer for the show, indeed many Opry shows, was Eddie Stubbs, a veteran announcer for WSM and amateur country music historian.  The host of the show was Larry Gatlin of the Gatlin Brothers.  He sang several of his old hits (this was a Classic country show after all), told some jokes, sang a few old gospel tunes and was very entertaining.   The main attractions of the program were Mel Tillis and the incomparable First Lady of Country Music...Loretta Lynn.  Darryl Singletary and a new artist whose name was not in the program also performed. 

Mel was on stage for close to 30-minutes and for a man in his mid 80's he looked, moved and sang like he was half his age.  We'd seen Mel many years ago at his Branson, Mo. theatre and he didn't disappoint either time.  His voice is still clear and strong and he has a great sense of humor introducing himself as 'Pam's dad' (country great Pam Tillis).  Many members of his band have been with him for 3 and 4 decades.  What can I say about Loretta Lynn?  She came on stage dressed in a long, frilly blue gown reminiscent of the 60's and 70's. 

Preparing the stage for the show

Also 80+ years old her voice sounds as good today as it ever has.  She was on stage for about 20-minutes and closed the show/broadcast with her signature song, Coal Miner's Daughter.  Unfortunately, none of the photos I took of the performers came out well.  I was only able to use my camera phone as cameras with removable lenses like my Nikon were prohibited. 

I can't adequately express what seeing the Opry at the Ryman meant to me.  It truly was a dream come true.